TOPICS : China’s Sudan links cast shadow on Olympics

Elaborate celebrations are being planned for the Aug. 8 one-year countdown to the Beijing Olympics, but Chinese leaders fear both the party and the games could be spoiled by an escalating international campaign to link the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China is fiercely proud of its Olympics, seen by many here as the country’s coming-out party to the world. Its brightest talent has been pooled to work on the preparations, ensuring they showcase the rise and prowess of a nation both ancient and young.

But recent months have seen mounting international criticism of China’s supportive stance toward Sudan, resulting in publicity campaigns to discredit and even boycott the games. Detractors charge that Beijing’s dealings with the oil-rich state have shielded Sudan’s leaders, who are accused of funding Arab militias to attack and terrorise the non-Arab population in Darfur.

Experts estimate that over 250,000 people have died and 2.5 million displaced since violence between the non-Arab ethnic groups and the Janjaweed militia broke in 2003. US actor Mia Farrow and other US entertainment figures have pointed fingers at China as Sudan’s largest foreign investor and energy partner for refusing to censure the violence and said the 2008 games could become known as the “Genocide Olympics”.

In the latest upset for Beijing, Hollywood’s celebrated director Steven Spielberg has warned he is considering resigning his position as artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympic Games unless China did more to stop the bloodshed in Darfur.

Earlier this year Beijing rebuked demands by human rights campaigners who say isolating the Khartoum government is the only way to stop militias blamed for mass killings and rapes. “Chinese aid and investment will, in the long run, help in the resolution of the Darfur problem,” Li Ruogu, chairman of the state-owned China Exim Bank, said in May. He was speaking at the African development Bank annual meeting held in Shanghai.

China angrily rejects the link of Darfur violence to its hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a demonstration of Cold war mentality. Defending Beijing ‘s political backing for Khartoum, Liu Guijin stressed that China does diplomacy in its own way, shunning strong-arm tactics and aiming for a subtler, more respectful approach. “China insists on using influence without interference, and we know respect for all the parties is vital to finding a solution,” Liu told the China Daily.

Spielberg wrote a letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao in May, imploring China to do something about Darfur. Spielberg’s spokesman, Andy Spahn told the ABC News that the director was considering “all options”, including quitting his role in the Olympics preparations. A group of 108 members of the US House of representatives has also sent a letter to the Chinese government, warning that the Beijing Olympics could be endangered if China did not change its polices in Sudan. — IPS