Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Liu Guijin, China’s special representative for African affairs, visited Darfur last week. His trip had little impact on the ongoing bloodshed, but it did raise some hope that things might improve. It also signalled a shift in China’s attitudes because for the first time Beijing showed some willingness to put pressure on Khartoum. Until recently and for years China, which now constitutes Sudan’s main trading partner, especially in oil exports, had protected Sudan from United Nations sanctions.
Mr Gujin “hopes that Sudan can exert more flexibility in the implementation of the Annan plan so as to press ahead with the political process of the Darfur region and further improve the humanitarian and security situation,” China’s state news agency Xinhua reported.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu confirmed that the UN and Sudan had agreed in November on a plan backed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the deployment of a joint African Union-UN force of 20,000 peacekeepers.
However, Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has since backed away from the deal, saying he would only allow an African Union force with technical support from the UN.
Until now China had opposed its veto in the United Nations to all proposals to impose sanctions on Sudan for its refusal to accept the peace plan.
According to UN sources, since the start of the civil war in the Darfur in 2003 more than 200,000 people have died as a result of warfare but also epidemics and famine. Other sources put the death toll at around 450,000 but Sudanese authorities have acknowledged only 9,000 dead. Some two million people have been forced from their homes and are stranded in refugee camps in neighbouring Chad.
The UN accuses Khartoum of providing money, weapons and transportation to Arab militias known as janjaweed (devils on horseback) who have raided, pillaged and slaughtered civilians in villages and refugee camps. By some estimates the Sudanese regime is spending up to 70 per cent of its oil revenues in buying weapons (helicopters, bombs, light weapons) to use against the civilian population.
Beijing has been accused of backing the regime in Khartoum to protect its own interests in the country, especially in matters regarding oil. It has also been charged with selling weapons.
In April China imported 222,000 barrels of oil per day from Sudan; that represents an increase of 539 per cent over last year and has made Sudan China’s fourth largest oil supplier. Oil exports are expected to reach 600,000 barrels per day by next year.
Since 1999 Beijing has invested at least US$ 15 billion in the country, and 10,000 Chinese are said to be working there.
State-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) has invested US$ 5 billion, and is shipping anywhere between 50 and 80 per cent of all the oil pumped from Sudan’s oil fields.
The Darfur region is also oil-rich. In April 2005 it was estimated that it could supply up to 500,000 barrels at day. And for many analysts this is the main reason for the ongoing bloodshed.
In the meantime international pressure is growing for China to use its influence and get Sudan to accept the UN peacekeeping force.
In the United States a campaign is underway against investing in the CNPC and other Chinese firms operating in Sudan. Fidelity Investments is one of the US firms that sold off its interests in Chinese companies.
In Congress some members are calling for a boycott of the Beijing 2008 Olympics if Beijing does not change its stance towards the Darfur.
Human rights activities in Europe and the US have started referring to the 2008 Olympics as the “Genocidal Games” and are urging sponsors to lobby Chinese authorities to do something to stop the genocide.
Beijing has responded so far by offering to send 275 military engineers to back the peacekeeping force of the African Union already present on the ground. But many experts are sceptical and want to see results.
Many are highly critical of Beijing’s attitude towards the consequences of its companies’ operations abroad. They point the finger for example at China Eximbank which is financing the construction of a dam in the fertile Nile valley that requires the removal of some 70,000 people who are scheduled to be resettle in a desert area. (PB)