Monday, April 23, 2007

In a speech last week at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Bush stepped up pressure on Sudan to work to end the brutal treatment of civilians in Darfur. Rape, torture and killing that amounts to nothing short of genocide by government forces and government-backed militias has become the abominable status quo.

Mr. Bush said that if Sudanese President Omar Bashir did not comply with the conditions set forth by the United Nations, the United States would implement economic sanctions unilaterally. The United States would strengthen current sanctions, adding 29 companies to the list of people and businesses blocked from doing business in the United States, and it would draft a new Security Council resolution. Before taking this step, however, the Bush administration wants to give U.N. diplomacy another shot.

The problem, though, is that the international community has been down this road before with Lt. Gen. Bashir. What looks to be a small but positive step — in this case, Lt. Gen. Bashir’s apparent acquiescence to 3,000 U.N. forces to support the African Union force — is later rescinded or disavowed. The progress in this case falls well short of the internationally-preferred AU-U.N. “hybrid” force, which would include non-AU soldiers under U.N. command and which Lt. Gen. Bashir has serially rejected. This problem is compounded because Lt. Gen. Bashir knows that China has promised to use its Security Council veto to shield his country from any serious U.N. action.

China’s role in enabling the Darfur crisis has been shameful. Sudan’s oil resources have attracted substantial capital investment from China, estimated at around $10 billion over the last decade, and Sudan, in turn, now exports around 60 percent of its oil to China. Despite ludicrous claims to the contrary — one Chinese official in March spoke of his country’s “friendship from the bottom of our hearts” — China’s view toward Africa is purely mercantilist, and in the most destructive way. Not only does China provide a diplomatic shield, it sells weapons to Lt. Gen. Bashir’s government, which transports those same weapons to murderous militias in Darfur using planes painted white to look like U.N. aircraft. Sudan has denied that practice, but, as another reminder of Khartoum’s duplicity, an official U.N. report leaked to the New York Times last week confirms that Lt. Gen. Bashir’s government camouflages its planes, which it also uses to conduct reconnaissance and bomb villages.

In addition to its economic motivation, China may simply oppose a U.N. response to a particular nation’s human-rights violations, including genocide. A country that refuses to guarantee the basic human rights of its own people, China has also this year vetoed a Security Council resolution addressing the repressive situation in Burma.

Bringing pressure to bear on China is difficult. Chinese President Hu Jintao, visiting Sudan in February, was expected to urge Lt. Gen. Bashir to accept a larger U.N. role in Darfur. The message Mr. Hu delivered wasn’t as direct as some had hoped. Advocates are calling for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to be used as a platform to highlight China’s disgraceful record in Sudan; for the people of Darfur, that may be too long to wait.

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