Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 8 News List

China's shameful role in Darfur

By Michael Danby

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has just been there, and in the middle of this international humanitarian crisis, and as columnist Sebastian Mallaby wrote in the Washington Post on Feb. 5, Hu called on nations to "respect the sovereignty of Sudan."

But since the end of the Cold War, the Western view of sovereignty has grown increasingly contingent. If a nation slaughters its civilians (think Rwanda, Kosovo), harbors terrorists (Afghanistan) or refuses to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors (Iraq), it forfeits its right to sovereignty. It may not be invaded, but it certainly can expect to face sanctions.

Part of China's motivation is an increasingly desperate need for new oil suppliers. Twenty years ago China supplied 90 percent of its own oil. Now, with domestic consumption surging, China can supply only 40 percent of its needs from domestic sources. China invested heavily in Iraq under late president Saddam Hussein, but since the US-led invasion, China can no longer count on favorable treatment. In Russia, Japanese companies with deeper pockets have outbid CNPC for access to new Siberian oilfields. Sudan is the answer to China's energy prayers -- poor, but oil-rich and in need of friends.

China is also playing a deeper game, following a longer term geopolitical strategy. What Beijing's authoritarian leadership fear more than anything else is the spread of Western democratic ideals -- what they call "bourgeois liberalism."

They saw what happened to their old comrades in the Soviet Union, and they are determined that no such thing will happen to them. To curb the spread of liberal democratic politics, they are forming new geopolitical alliances, giving diplomatic and economic aid to other regimes which also fear democratic ideas.

Today any country that is in trouble at the UN over abuses of human rights can always rely on a Chinese veto in the Security Council. China is the best friend of the military regime in Myanmar -- one of the world's most oppressive regimes -- and of President Robert Mugabe's bankrupt dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

On a broader canvas, a la George Orwell, China is trying to form a "Eurasian bloc" with Russia, Iran and the states of former Soviet Central Asia. It has formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with these countries, the goal of which is to control much of the world's energy supplies, and link these to China's huge population and dynamic economy.

Australia has done very well out of China's growth and its hunger for energy, selling huge quantities of coal, iron ore and natural gas. Much of our current prosperity has been built on this new China trade boom. This has led the Howard government to adopt a policy of craven silence in the face of the gross abuses of human rights in China, and also to Beijing's role in propping up nasty regimes in Myanmar, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. It's hard to imagine, however, that any Australian government can turn a blind eye to what is now going in Darfur.

It may be said that Sudan is a faraway country about which we can do very little. But there is something we can do.

Recently I learned that there are hundreds of Darfur refugees stranded in Cairo, unable to return home and unable to find a country willing to accept them. The Egyptian government, an ally of Sudan, will not allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to process them. Australia has an embassy in Cairo, and its people and parliament are sympathetic to the Darfurians.

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