Pressuring China on Burma and Darfur


Christopher Hitchens is both exasperating and, occasionally, correct. I tend to disagree with his conclusions on many topics while finding his analysis pertinent to the discussion. For instance, he published a column on Slate this past week titled “Maintained in China: Burma’s Foul Regime Depends on China” that correctly points out that Chinese support is crucial to the continued existence of two of the world’s most repressive regimes in Burma (Myanmar) and Sudan. In the article he makes the following point:

Is there an initiative to save the un-massacred remains of the people of Darfur? It will be met by a Chinese veto. Does anyone care about Robert Mugabe treating his desperate population as if it belonged to him personally? China is always ready to help him out. Are the North Koreans starved and isolated so that a demented playboy can posture with nuclear weapons? Beijing will give the demented playboy a guarantee. How long can Southeast Asia bear the shame and misery of the Burmese junta? As long as the embrace of China persists.

He follows up this pertinent analysis with the conclusion that “Meanwhile, everybody is getting ready for the lovely time they will have at the Beijing Olympics. If there could be a single demand that would fuse almost all the human rights demands of the contemporary world into one, it would be the call to boycott or cancel this disgusting celebration.”

In this ‘demand’ I think he is being both naive and perhaps a bit disingenuous. Does he really believe that the right solution is to “cancel this disgusting celebration”? My personal belief is that the Olympics should be used as an opportunity for supporters of social justice and human rights to pressure the Beijing government without resorting to the untenable threat of a boycott or cancellation.

I can across a site today that takes a more sophisticated and realistic approach. Olympic Dream for Darfur focuses on ‘protecting civilians on the ground in Darfur.’ They go on to say that:

Our goal is to protect civilians on the ground in Darfur. To achieve this, the government of Sudan must allow a robust civilian protection force into Darfur.

Because of China’s extensive economic interests in Sudan, leaders in Beijing are in a unique – indeed unrivaled – position to persuade Sudan to consent immediately to a true and robust U.N. operation in Darfur.

The two roles China is playing – host of the Games that symbolize peace and supporter of a genocidal regime – are inconsistent and must be reconciled.

Dream for Darfur specifically says they are not supporting a boycott of the Olympics, but goes on to say that with “the privilege of hosting the Olympics come responsibilities, including the obligation to live up to the spirit of the Olympics, which means acting as a global leader for peace.”

I’m looking forward to seeing the same type of pressure being applied to China regarding Burma as is being put forward on Darfur. Certainly it will take patient effort, but the eyes of the world are on China, and it is time for the Chinese government to consider more than economic growth as they solidify their position as the preeminent power in the asian world.

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