“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.
The West must create a context in which China’s self-interest could be better served by reinforcing the rule of law in Darfur. Right now, China handles security on the ground in its own way: Thousands of the oil workers in the fields are Chinese military capable of defending installations there, should rebels gain momentum or the Bashir regime be overthrown.
To stop this surrogate standoff, the West must vest Beijing explicitly in a legitimate form of stability and security in the Sudan – one that doesn’t threaten its oil interests.
Rather than attempts at embarrassment, sanctions, threats, or a serious military intervention that China would interpret as a challenge to its control of the oil fields, the focus should be on tying diplomatic and economic efforts together coherently, to enlist China constructively.
This can be done – because it has been done, in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. In 2006 the US pushed to get expanded voting rights for China in the International Monetary Fund, to reflect its weight in the world economy. The quid pro quo Treasury Secretary Paulson promoted was a “hope,” as he gently put it, that more power in the IMF would motivate China to allow its artificially low currency to float to a market exchange rate (helping US and EU exports).
China’s currency started to float. What wasn’t mentioned publicly was that the offer of more IMF voting shares was also used to help get Beijing’s aid in squeezing North Korea, by reducing its financial assistance to Pyongyang. And it worked.
If the Bush administration is looking for a legacy making move, the famously siloed departments of State, Treasury, and the US Trade Representative (USTR) could quietly offer meaningful incentives for China to play a more active role in resolving the Darfur crisis.
China has a significant interest in even modest changes to US and EU farm subsidies, for example, to make its food exports more attractive. Those subsidies are widely considered excessive. USTR has already urged “ambitious cuts” in subsidies to revive trade talks – cuts that could be applied as part of an economic brake lever on mass slaughter.
We have similar openings in trade and currency negotiations, peaceful technology transfer, scientific collaboration, environmental control technology, bioscience, and technical assistance on any number of fronts – some or all of which, negotiated deliberately, can align China’s economic interests with the West’s agenda in Darfur.
Attempts to gain cooperation through humiliation feel righteous, but won’t deliver results. Only when we positively address China’s economic self-interest, and its desperate need for energy, will the West find the humanitarian solution it seeks.
Originally published in the Monitor, April 30, 2008