- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2008

BEIJING — China strenuously defended its close ties to Sudan yesterday, touting its efforts to resolve Darfur’s humanitarian crisis in its latest and most vigorous attempt to refute critics trying to link the issue to this summer’s Olympic Games.

China’s special envoy for Darfur, Liu Guijin, said Chinese army engineers had already improved water supply and other infrastructure in the troubled Sudanese region ahead of the planned arrival of 26,000 United Nations and African Union peacekeepers.

He said China was united with the West in seeking an end to the fighting between rebels and government troops and allied militiamen that has killed at least 200,000 persons and displaced 2.2 million since 2003.

While China’s ties to the Khartoum regime have long drawn scrutiny, they have taken on additional sensitivity amid a campaign by politicians and rights advocates to spur Beijing into action by threatening to tarnish the games’ image.

Beijing says it rejects such efforts, but Mr. Liu’s repeated trips to the region and high public profile appear to indicate the pressure is gaining a response.

“The linking of the Darfur issue to the Beijing Olympic Games is not reasonable,” Mr. Liu told reporters following his most recent trip to Sudan and neighboring Chad, where many Darfur refugees have fled.

“Some individuals have been using some individual issues to try to defame the Chinese government through the issue of the Olympic Games. Those attempts will go nowhere,” he said.

Mr. Liu said there was nothing improper about Beijing’s close relations with Sudan, including China’s large-scale purchases of Sudanese oil. He said China’s economic ties to Sudan have helped push the country’s economic growth to the highest level of any African country.

The push to link the Beijing Games to the Darfur crisis gained wide attention last month when Hollywood director Steven Spielberg said he could not in good conscience serve as an artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies.

Mr. Liu said he was surprised by Mr. Spielberg’s announcement because he met with the director in September. “What happened later was unexpected to me,” he said.

Activists with the Save Darfur Coalition plan to stage a rally in San Francisco when the Olympic Torch Relay arrives there April 9 on its only U.S. stop.

Meanwhile Chinese officials accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, of trying to sabotage the Olympics, suggesting yesterday they are prepared to take harsh measures against any group causing instability in the Himalayan region.

“China earned the qualifications in order to host the Olympics. But [the Dalai Lama] is even trying to sabotage this important event and spread rumors,” said Zhang Qingli, the region’s Communist Party secretary, its top official.

Mr. Zhang did not say how the Dalai Lama was trying to sabotage the games. The Tibetan spiritual leader reportedly told British broadcaster ITV News earlier this year that protests at the Olympics could highlight government policies he says are eroding Tibet’s traditional Buddhist culture.

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