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Wed. May 22, 2024
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The Beijing Olympics: Perfect Storm of Hope for Darfur?
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Tibetan unrest, and China’s aggressive crackdown there, has eclipsed Darfur as the prime pressure-point for world opinion in the leadup to the Beijing Olympics. This is understandable. Nonetheless, China is unlikely to yield control over territory it occupies (Tibet) just to put a friendlier face on its Olympics. It might, however, be persuaded to do better by Darfur. It took Stephen Spielberg months to agree to press China for action on Darfur, but less than a day for China to denounce his withdrawal as artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics. Mr. Spielberg’s company includes US Olympic speed-skater Joey Cheek (“Team Darfur”), who is organizing Beijing-bound athletes to protest China’s role in Sudan. They will make their view known in civil fashion, but have made clear they won’t be deterred by the kinds of no-protest pledges the UK and New Zealand are requiring from their artists. Chinese gestures in their direction, however, quietly made, would go some distance to improving the political atmosphere for Beijing. China buys most of Sudan’s oil, and invests heavily in the troubled region with money, armaments, and personnel. In short, it holds the key to Sudan’s economic future. It also has noncombatant engineers participating in the fledgling UN-sponsored peacekeeping force for Darfur. Why focus on Darfur? Because it constitutes one of the most notorious examples of war-by-terror, including murder, rape and scorched-earth. Women are not spared, nor children. Relentless pressure from goups like Save Darfur has already got China to stop ignoring the situation quite as flagrantly. China no longer blocks UN Security Council resolutions, it just waters them down, and China is slowly drifting toward the international community’s position: strong rhetorical condemnation of Sudan, coupled with well-intentioned political gestures. On paper, Darfur has both a peace agreement and a UN protective force. Yet on the ground, the killing continues. Because of China’s unique leverage in Sudan, and its high-stakes Olympic year, it is realistic, indeed compulsory, to ask China to help stop the killing. Contrarians argue, the history of politics-in-the-Olympics is not a pretty one (Berlin, Munich, Moscow). Should we keep sport and politics apart here? We can’t, pleas from President Bush notwithstanding. Beijing sought, and won, the Olympics to showcase its tremendous economic, cultural, and political progress. China has joined the World Trade Organization and carries large responsibilities in the institutions of global governance. To embarrass China is not appropriate, but leverage its power against one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights in the 21st century definitely is. The urgency is genuine, as the wheels of global governance grind ever-so-slowly amid the cries of unabated slaughter. A fair objection is that Sudan has a long-standing civil conflict, of which Darfur is only one part, and that we should avoid outside interference in its internal affairs. Where would that stop, after all? Diplomat presumptions against internal intervention, do mean fewer wars. But Darfur is the unavoidable exception from that rule. In extreme cases, intervention is a moral dictate. The failure to act in Rwanda, and the inept reaction to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia should be instructive. With thousands of Darfurians still being killed, maimed, or exiled to refugee camps in Chad--camps now being overtaken by rebellion in that country--can there be a more compelling case for decisive action? The symbolic Spielberg move seemed to galvanize the world community, but it’s overtaken by events in Tibet (and who knows what next?) Yet time is short, and we urgently need to keep the heat on over Darfur. China is in the spotlight until the Olympics are over, and key individuals must be asked to second Spielberg and the athetic community: President Bush, while skeptical of Olympic protests, is keenly focused on Africa. Sens. McCain, Obama, and Clinton have spoken out on Darfur, and Gov. Romney has valuable experience to offer as savior of the Salt Lake Olympics. Whether these individuals choose to act publicly or exert private pressure is up to them, but act they should. Beijing is behind the UK’s and New Zealand’s demands for athletes to pledge political silence in Beijing. China understands the athletes are the key: we must ensure that protests are registered with civility, while proving that censorship will backfire. NBA stars like Tracy McGrady and the Sudanese Luol Deng, also embrace the Darfur cause, and the sports world won’t be cowed into silence. The Beijing Olympics and the US presidential election create a window of opportunity for compelling China to intervene decisively in Darfur. This rare ‘perfect storm’ of hope should not be allowed to slip away. George A. Pieler is Senior Fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation. Jens F. Laurson is Editor-in-Chief of the International Affairs Forum

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