BEIJING -- China has expressed "grave concerns" to the Sudanese government about the recent violence in western Darfur and is actively working to resolve delays in establishing an international peacekeeping force, China's special envoy to Darfur said yesterday.
The envoy, Liu Guijin, who recently returned from his fourth visit to Sudan, offered a detailed defense of China's role in Darfur at a news conference at the Foreign Ministry here and repeated Beijing's stance that activists are wrong to link the strife in Darfur to the Beijing Olympics in August.
He also expressed surprise at film director Steven Spielberg's public withdrawal as artistic director of the Beijing Olympics last month. Spielberg said at the time that he was stepping down because China, Sudan's largest trading partner, had not used enough of its leverage over the Sudanese government to resolve the conflict. But Liu said China's relationship with Spielberg had effectively ended months earlier.
In recent weeks, violence in the western Darfur region of Sudan has escalated as the Sudanese army and its Janjaweed militia allies have attacked rebel groups and civilians, creating a new wave of refugees.
Liu said China was pressing Sudan to do more to end the violence, but he added that rebel groups also shared responsibility.
"I conveyed China's grave concerns about the deterioration of conditions in western Darfur," Liu said.
Liu said he met with President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and other top officials. Officials told him that the recent government attacks were an effort to reclaim land taken by insurgent fighters last December.
"The reality is the clashes there are not yet concluded, and the situation is still quite tense," Liu said.
Liu's recent trip included stops in Chad, where many Darfur refugees have fled, as well as France and Britain; it was a blend of diplomacy and public relations as China tries to end the controversy with the Olympics drawing near. China's role as an arms supplier and oil patron of Sudan has brought international criticism from advocacy groups, which blame Beijing for protecting Khartoum's interests.
Calls for political leaders to boycott the Olympics have mostly gone unheeded, but the criticism has pushed Beijing to take a more active, and public, role in resolving the Darfur conflict.
Spielberg came under pressure for his role in helping to plan the Olympic opening ceremony when the actress Mia Farrow criticized him for supporting what she called the "Genocide Olympics."
When he announced his withdrawal from the position last month, Spielberg said in a statement that "China's economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change."
Liu made much the same point last month when he defended China's policy on Darfur at Chatham House, a research institute in London. Yesterday, he said China's policy toward Sudan was essentially the same as that of the United States and other Western powers. On arms sales, Liu said China is one of several countries that sold weapons to Sudan and "is by no means the biggest exporter."
China, like Iran, Russia and others, sells weapons to Sudan. While China says it abides by a U.N. embargo on sending weapons directly to Darfur, a panel of United Nations experts found that Chinese weapons were making their way to Darfur.
Liu said that China could not control what happened to weapons that were legally sold to Sudan's government but might end up in the hands of Janjaweed militias. He noted that American weapons in Iraq have ended up in the hands of insurgents.
Prodded by China, Sudan has agreed to allow a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force into the country to try to bring stability to Darfur. But delays have arisen, and critics have accused the Sudanese government of stonewalling.
Liu said that technical problems were responsible for the delays, but that most of them had recently been solved. He also noted that a Chinese engineering unit has been working in Sudan since last year and is installing a water system to sustain the peacekeeping force.
Liu also said that China had no plans to send combat troops to participate in peacekeeping operations, though he held open the possibility that could change in the future.