Olympic leverage

October 09, 2007

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing are nearly a year away, but for China and Sudan, the games have already begun.

As China preens in the world spotlight, its leaders have proved unusually susceptible to suggestions that Beijing should no longer be involved in the nasty business of financing genocide in Darfur through oil trade with Khartoum.

The small steps China has taken to lean on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir are significant, but not nearly enough to keep pace with the rate at which Darfur is descending into a deeper level of hellish chaos.

To earn its credentials as a global leader, the Asian giant should use its influence as Sudan's major trading partner, weapons supplier and benefactor to go beyond short-term public relations gestures. It should hasten the arrival of international peacekeepers to Darfur, ensure that President al-Bashir keeps his promise to accept them and take an active role in negotiating a lasting settlement between Khartoum and the growing ranks of Darfur rebels.

That's a tall order, perhaps, but one China alone can fill, and the Olympics make this the ideal moment to press the case.

Celebrities have proved particularly adept at the shaming tactic, chiding the Chinese for the hypocrisy of the 2008 games slogan, "One World, One Dream," while ignoring the nightmare world of Darfur. And a series of conciliatory gestures have followed.

China named a special envoy to Darfur, who has been working to mediate an end to the conflict, and dropped its objections to sending U.N. peacekeepers there, even contributing 300 Chinese soldiers.

Further, China helped persuade Sudan to accept the U.N. forces and take part in talks with rebel groups this month in Libya. Former President Jimmy Carter also reported that China is lending to Sudan $200 million to compensate Darfur victims.

Nothing has changed so far in Darfur except that the violence grows worse. But with much effort by China and the rest of the world, perhaps next summer's games can be known as the Olympics That Ended Genocide.

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