Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trading Darfur For Tibet

With the uproar over the Chinese crackdown on Tibetan pro-independence/autonomy protests, the hubbub over the Olympic torch relay, and the to-do over the Dalai Lama's visit to the US, it's no wonder that the 2008 Beijing Olympics are being referred to as the "Tibet Olympics." As world leaders debate whether to boycott, or just skip, the Opening Ceremonies or the Games themselves, more and more attention gets turned to the cause of Tibet.

To the detriment of Darfur.

Before the protests in Tibet broke out, the Beijing Olympics were supposed to be the "Darfur Olympics." Much attention was paid to China's role as Sudan's patron and protector in the UN Security Council; Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg criticized the Chinese government; I even spoke at a rally sponsored by SaveDarfur here in Tacoma about China's role in Sudan and what might be done. And the campaign seemed to be paying off. As I blogged last April:

after two years of shielding Sudan from international sanctions over the situation in Darfur, China has recently begun applying more pressure to Sudan.

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.

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.
But now, all that attention has shifted to Tibet. The situation in Darfur continues to worsen, but the pressure is now off China to do anything to reverse things there. Political capital and the energy needed to motivate protests is, of course, limited. It may be that the media, non-governmental organizations, protesters, and the general public only have the resources to focus on one issue. If so, it seems as if Tibet has won out over Darfur for linkage with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But that would be a mistake. If only one cause can be aggressively championed (or even if championing both detracts from each), that cause should be Darfur. Not because the Darfuris are more worthy of protection that are the Tibetans, not because the situation is worse in Darfur (although a strong case could probably be made for that argument), not for any reason other than practicality. China is much more likely to yield to pressure over Darfur than it is over Tibet. Sudan represents important political and economic interests for China; Tibet represents sovereignty. China will, most likely, never cede Tibet. Greater autonomy is possible, but not in the short term. Using the Olympics to pressure and shame China into leaning on Sudan to moderate its behavior in Darfur seemed to be paying off. Using the Olympics to pressure and shame China into backing off Tibet is only likely to alienate and anger Beijing.

It would truly be a shame if an opportunity to help the people of Darfur went unrealized so that people can vent their anger over Tibet. The Tibetan people may very well deserve independence and our support. But not in ineffective protests that distract from and obstruct progress over Darfur.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments.

Diodotus said...

good point, seth... would it make a difference do you think if transnational activists referred to it as athe "human rights olympics" or do these issues inevitably cancel one another out?

Seth Weinberger said...


No, I don't. NGOs and other human rights activists are norm entrepreneurs that have to "sell" their cause to the public, governments, and international organizations. Each wants attention and funding to flow to their preferred cause and as attention and funding are, essentially, finite and limited resources, the competition becomes zero-sum. Promoting too many causes dilute the power of the message.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that I am sounding so ignorant over here. I'm in the United States and haven't heard much about Darfur except when mentioned with China.

What the international community have done on their side besides pushing China to end a civil war (or genocide or whatever) in a remote continent? Did UN act and authorize peace keeper? Did USA/UK/France/Germany sent troops?

Having some economic tie doesn't empower China to do much. Isn't it just like pushing France/Germany to use their economic ties with USA to end bloodshed in Iraq war? Or for angry Chinese to demonstrate in front of Carrefour in the hope that it will use the economic power home to quell support for rioting Tibetan separatists?

It may work and may not work. Why people place this illusion all on China?

Seth Weinberger said...

Anonymous #2:

Yes, the UN has acted (albeit minimally). It has authorized a peacekeeping force to replace the too small, undermanned, and inadequately equipped African Union peacekeeping force that is currently deployed in Darfur and has proven incapable of keeping anything resembling a peace. But the Sudanese government has, despite acquiescing in principle to the peace keepers, put up numerous obstructions and roadblocks in the path of deploying the force (such as objecting to European peace keepers, Asian peace keepers, or the specific equipment being introduced). Much of Sudan's recalcitrance, as well as the reluctance of the UN to impose harsher conditions and obligations on Khartoum, can be traced to China's support of Sudan. Sudan is a major energy supplier to China, and China has assumed the role of Sudan's protector in the Security Council. Thus, the blame being laid on China is not of direct involvement in the Darfur genocide, but rather of implicit enabling. There are two actions the Western powers would like China to take: 1) Stop shielding Darfur in the Security Council, and 2) Use China's economic and political leverage over Sudan to urge Sudan to cooperate more with the international community and the peace keepers in particular.

Anonymous said...

OK, I like the name "Anonymous #2".

Thank you for the education that helped me with the topic. :-) However, I still didn't see anything that set China apart from the other countries in Security Council. I quickly googled to educate myself a little bit:

To me, China were just like all other countries in UN Security Council, --calling Sudanese government to cooperate before sending in peace keepers, which is the normal UN precedent (non-combative mission).

Eventually in 2007, UN got the minimal cooperation from Sudanese government to send in a much larger peace keeping force. And China supported the resolution 1789 (2007).

It is understandable that China had a long-running position that China has ever been reluctant to intervene in what it views as a domestic affair. Just like United States' position of never recognizing the International Criminal Court (No international law to prevail on domestic law).

To me, it is hardly convincing to call China the shield of Sudan government. The most China did was abstaining from resolutions that doesn't reflect its belief. To be a really shield Sudan government would appreciate, China need to act more like USA with any resolution involving Israel. And China seems to be active or open in diplomacies in resolving the issue. It doesn’t have a vested interested in the abuse over there.

As to use economic tie to push Sudanese government, I doubt how that will work. If China doesn't do business with Sudan, others will be happy to fill the vacuum. United States has been sanctioning Cuba forever just as it doesn’t like anything called communist. That's too ambitious a goal to achieve for any country alone.

I now see more clearly your point how people linked Darfur with Beijing. It is just my opinion that the people concerned need to do more rather than just direct all the pressure on China, which doesn't want to (sovereignty) and cannot do much (little leverage). Neither does UN have much power over individual countries. Unless one has vested interest for NATO/United States to act, there’s no much international community can do to immediately deploy a troop. Even with that kind of force, war between rivaling people are still hard to stop without the proper resolution between them. Iraq is a recent example.

Keep on working. Humanitarian missions will help a bit. Concert action from all countries will help too. But permanent resolutions are within the Sudanese.