China Reacts Defensively To Spielberg Resignation

Director Left Olympics Role Over Darfur

Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 15, 2008; Page A13

BEIJING, Feb. 14 -- Chinese officials defended the country's human rights record regarding the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur on Thursday in the first official reaction to Steven Spielberg's abrupt resignation as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympic Games.

In withdrawing Tuesday, the American movie director said China "should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering" in Darfur, where fighting between rebellious African tribes and government-backed Arab militias has led to the deaths of as many as 450,000 people and displaced 2.5 million others.

China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and sells weapons to the Sudanese government. Spielberg's departure from the board advising the Chinese government on how to stage the Games' opening and closing ceremonies in August undermined China's efforts to present itself as a modern and advanced nation.

As Chinese officials returning from the Lunar New Year holiday scrambled to respond to Spielberg's widely publicized resignation, many Chinese seemed to rally around the government against the foreign criticism.

According to an online survey by the state-run newspaper Global Times, 82 percent of respondents believe Western pressure was due to political prejudice against China. The paper quoted international relations professor Jin Canrong of People's University of China in Beijing contending that the West uses its "media hegemony" to produce biased stereotypes.

Human rights activists have been applying more pressure on the Chinese government as violence has surged in Darfur in recent weeks.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, appearing at his regular news briefing Thursday, said China is concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and has been recognized by other countries for taking action.

China, Liu said, "has made unremitting efforts and has played a positive and constructive role" on the Darfur issue. He said China has provided about $13 million in aid and cash to help stabilize Darfur, in Sudan's west, and has sent 140 engineers as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

"Empty rhetoric will not help. What's more important is to do more things to help with the peacefulness there and alleviate the humanitarian crisis," Liu said. "We hope that relevant people and organizations will have an objective view on China's role on the Darfur issue and be more pragmatic."

China doubled its trade with Sudan last year and worked to weaken a U.N. resolution calling for a peacekeeping force opposed at the time by the Sudanese government, according to an open letter signed by Nobel Peace laureates, Olympic athletes and other advocates.

Those complaints are part of a rising wave of criticism of China's human rights record, both at home and abroad, as it prepares for the Aug. 8 start of the Olympics. The Chinese leadership views the Games as a way to showcase the country's record growth in recent years.

But human rights advocates and other government critics have taken the leadership to task over issues of pollution and food safety during the Games, while pressuring the government to end domestic repression and release rights activists and dissident journalists now in jail. In response, Chinese officials have insisted the Olympics not be politicized.

To help ensure the Games' success, the government recently appointed new Politburo Standing Committee member Xi Jinping, a possible successor to President Hu Jintao, to oversee preparations, according to a report this week in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong daily.

Political commentator Li Datong said government officials are reluctant to make real changes, despite the mounting criticism.

"They expected it, but just had no way to stop it," Li said. "The political system makes them conflicted. They are not willing to improve the situation of human rights, since it will change the basic system, yet they can't stain their international image. So they have to do something."

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