Why the change? The Times credits a PR campaign waged against the upcoming 2008 Olympics to be held in Beijing:
A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai even went all the way to Darfur and toured three refugee camps, a rare event for a high-ranking official from China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs.
Credit goes to Hollywood — Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg in particular. Just when it seemed safe to buy a plane ticket to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, nongovernmental organizations and other groups appear to have scored a surprising success in an effort to link the Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned about.
Ms. Farrow, a good-will ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund, has played a crucial role, starting a campaign last month to label the Games in Beijing the “Genocide Olympics” and calling on corporate sponsors and even Mr. Spielberg, who is an artistic adviser to China for the Games, to publicly exhort China to do something about Darfur. In a March 28 op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal, she warned Mr. Spielberg that he could “go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games,” a reference to a German filmmaker who made Nazi propaganda films.
Four days later, Mr. Spielberg sent a letter to President Hu Jintao of China, condemning the killings in Darfur and asking the Chinese government to use its influence in the region “to bring an end to the human suffering there,” according to Mr. Spielberg’s spokesman, Marvin Levy.
China soon dispatched Mr. Zhai to Darfur, a turnaround that served as a classic study of how a pressure campaign, aimed to strike Beijing in a vulnerable spot at a vulnerable time, could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not.
Groups focusing on many issues, including Tibet and human rights, have called for boycotts of the Games next year. But none of those issues have packed the punch of Darfur, where at least 200,000 people — some say as many as 400,000 — mostly non-Arab men, women and children, have died and 2.5 million have been displaced, as government-backed Arab militias called the janjaweed have attacked the local population.
It is extremely important to China that the Games go off smoothly. Hosting the Olympics represents China's aspirations to join and get respect from the international community. Landing the Games in the first place was seen as validation for China's economic and political moderation, and it scares China that something like Darfur could taint that. According to J. Stephen Morrison of CSIS, China's goal "is to be seen as an ethical, rising global power. Their goal is not to get in bed with every sleazy government that comes up with a little oil."Again we see the logic of engagement at work. Only by getting China to value its connections with the larger international community more than those with genocidal states would China be willing to challenge a strategic ally -- especially one that provides oil that is much-needed to maintain China's economic boom. While China has not yet agreed to allow the UN to impose serious sanctions on Sudan, there is evidence that Chinese pressure has been instrumental in the little ground Sudan has ceded lately. And while it may still be a long way to the deployment of an international peace keeping force, getting China to rethink where its interests lie is a critical step, and one that could only occur in the context of engagement.