Sunday, January 14, 2007

China Turns

One of the less-developed pieces in the Darfur puzzle is China's role. In the past, I've noted that China has sought to use the Darfur conflict as a tool to enhance its own stature and influence across Africa. China has used its security council veto, diplomatic influence, and economic heft to protect its client states from hostile foreign interference. Since China has been perfectly willing to trade with even the most vicious human rights abusers, the message sent to Africa is that going under the Chinese umbrella is a sure-shot way to insure that your political oppression won't result in nasty diplomatic or economic sanctions (or worse yet, military intervention). Sudan was to be the ultimate test case: if China could forestall meaningful intervention even while Khartoum was in the midst of genocide, it would be a powerful signal that it could be an effective ward for nearly any other tin-pot dictatorship in the region.

Without getting too optimistic, it may well be that China has changed its tune. The Washington Post reports that China was instrumental in pressuring Sudan to accept a cease-fire and perhaps further foreign intervention:
The U.S. special envoy to Sudan said Friday that China has pushed the Sudanese government recently to help resolve the bloody Darfur conflict and ease the plight of the region's nearly 3 million refugees.

The Chinese intervention marked a shift from past policy under which Beijing seemed reluctant to use its influence in Sudan, according to the envoy, Andrew S. Natsios. "I think they're engaging much more aggressively," Natsios said at a news briefing after four days of talks here with Chinese officials.

There are reasons to be skeptical. China has engaged in bait-and-switches regarding Darfur before, simultaneously pledging and undermining efforts for peace in the region. And of course, it would be quite fair to say too little, too late. But assuming this act is genuine and lasting, what is the upshot?

Well, obviously I'd be pleased that China is using its considerable influence for good instead of evil, for once. But why the shift? It's possible that China thinks that America's weakening hold on the mantle of human rights (in the wake of Abu Gharib, Guantanamo Bay, and other quasi-police-state moves of the Bush administration), offers an opportunity for them to gobble up legitimacy in the respect. The world is probably better off if China begins to consider human rights implications in its foreign policy. But it's probably worse off if China supplants the US as the go-to state on human rights concerns. It would be unforgivable if the US ceded that position on President Bush's watch.


Anonymous said...

Very speculative, but not totally implausible. Perhaps not a genuine interest in human rights, but more of a "jockeying for position" move on the part of the Chinese government, or even an attempt to move into the highground and deflect criticism of its own human rights abuses with the same tired excuse the U.S. currently uses ("Well hey, we're better than any other country out there....")

For all the back and forth and publishing of White Papers on each other's human rights records that goes on, Chinese and US officials really ought to congragulate each other for thinking up new and exciting ways to oppress their citizens.

The probligo said...

Take five minutes out for a geography lesson.

Get a hold of a resources map for Sudan.

Get a hold of a map of Sudan showing the areas where the major population movements have started.


It is not as if this is something new.

China "lost" one of its major oil suppliers some four years back (I wonder why and how?). It is little wonder that they have been seeking to replace that lost volume.

Start adding...

Jean-Baptiste Perrin said...

It would be unforgivable if the US ceded that position on President Bush's watch.
I would even say it would be "unacceptable", but I would fear to be accused of plagiarism... ;-)