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The only way to alter China's hand in Darfur

Shame won't work. But enlisting its self-interest can.

By Mark Lange / April 30, 2008

San Francisco

China won't be shamed into submission on Darfur.

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"Genocide Olympics" branding is a waste of time that is being paid for with lives. The media loves a good street circus – this month, Jonathan Alter declared the Olympics "the world's last lever" to settle Darfur, as if TV stunts and Olympic ceremonies propel geopolitics.

But Beijing's support for Sudan's Khartoum government won't be blunted by Western pressure. The West must constructively enlist China.

Khartoum's thugs spur ethnic hatred to incite the janjaweed militias toward something that looks like genocide. But it's important to understand that what motivates and funds this murderous regime and its weaponry isn't ethnic. It's China's desperate need for energy and the long-term strategic importance of Darfur's oil fields to China's economic growth.

Consider that China owns the largest oil concessions in Darfur. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is financing the slaughter of tribes with claims to the land above Sudan's largest reserves. He eliminates an inconvenient people with weapons and oil money from China, so he can ship more oil to China. On-camera, suppressing a smile, Energy Minister Awad al-Jaz said, "With the Chinese we don't feel any interference in our Sudanese traditions or politics or beliefs.... There is no other business but the business."

That cold context – and the fact that China has invested billions in exploration, production, pipelines, and weapons plants – underscores the implausibility of every option being endorsed by the Western punditariat.

Since China wields veto power on the United Nations Security Council, no serious multilateral sanctions, arms embargo, or effective military intervention can happen. A NATO or US-backed no-fly zone would inevitably mean occupation, since securing refugee corridors from the janjaweed can't be done from the air. It would also polarize the region, further align the US against both Muslim and Chinese interests in Africa, and escalate tensions without addressing China's fundamental motivations.

Darfur has become a five-year slaughter because of the failure of the West to devise serious incentives for China to bring Khartoum and the rebels to the table. Direct approaches to Khartoum to find a political solution have been a travesty and cannot succeed. The only way to get the Khartoum government under control and resolve this humanitarian crisis is to enlist China's economic and strategic self-interest – directly.