Genocide diplomacy in Darfur

President Bush makes good on a sanctions threat, but much depends on China.

President Bush ratcheted up US sanctions Tuesday against Sudan for its atrocities in Darfur or, specifically, for not allowing in UN peacekeepers. His action, done on behalf of "the conscience of the world," just might force China, Sudan's main supporter, to find more of a conscience in helping end a genocide.

In April, when Mr. Bush was ready to impose these tougher sanctions, China, along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, sought additional time for diplomacy. Bush agreed, reluctantly. More attempts were then made to persuade Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to approve a 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Such persuasion, without teeth, didn't work.

Mr. Bashir simply referred to UN peacekeepers as "neocolonialists." The Khartoum regime kept up its campaign of violence against the 2.5 million refugees in its western region of Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 in this civil war. The regime took no steps to disarm local militias committing most of the atrocities. And the UN discovered Sudan flying arms into Darfur in planes painted white, making them appear to be UN aircraft.

With a G-8 summit next week, Bush decided to announce the tougher sanctions in hopes that the forum of rich nations would join his drive for more pressure on Sudan. One part of the Bush plan is a ban on an additional 31 Sudanese companies (from more than 100) conducting any dollar transactions within the US financial system. That step may have some effect, but an assist from European banks would help.

And the US also seeks a nod from the UN Security Council for two other, noneconomic sanctions: imposing a broad arms embargo against Sudan and barring the government from conducting any offensive military flights in Darfur. That action will require China to not cast its veto in the Council.

But Beijing buys more than half of Sudan's oil, a part of its global grab for raw materials to fuel a superheated export economy. If China now jeopardizes oil imports from Sudan by standing up for human rights in Darfur, it may face similar scrutiny over imports of resources from (and aid to) dictators in Burma (Myanmar), Zimbabwe, and elsewhere.

Western countries often link trade and aid to good governance and human rights, but China doesn't. That's an increasingly difficult stand to take, especially when China will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Beijing hopes to use the spotlight on the Games to showcase itself as a global player. In recent months, however, activists have branded these "the genocide games," aiming to muster a boycott unless Beijing acts tougher on Sudan.

That pressure has had some effect on Beijing, but now Bush's call for harsher sanctions should force China to exercise a stronger hand over its friends in Khartoum. If China doesn't go along, the humanitarian crisis and the genocide in Darfur may only worsen.

What Beijing ultimately does will send a signal to nations in Africa that it has recently courted as economic partners: Regimes such as Sudan's can't abuse diplomacy when atrocities against innocents are going on.

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