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Talking Soft: Common Language Helps Resolve Darfur Issue
2007-09-17 00:00

     As China's first special envoy on African affairs, Liu Guijin has been running against time since assuming office in May. He made three trips to Africa in less than three months, two of them to Darfur, Sudan, at a dramatic time in one of the most volatile spots in Africa. More than one million displaced people came one step closer to returning home as the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) decided to deploy a 26,000-strong joint peacekeeping force in Darfur. The largest country on the continent struggled towards peace and stability as rebel groups sat down to negotiate with the government. As the international community hailed the progress as "unprecedented", many world leaders thanked China for playing a constructive role.

    (On June 23, 2007, in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir (right) met with visiting Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Darfur Liu Guijin (left). They exchanged views on the relations between two countries, the Darfur issue and other problems.)

    "You can describe China's role in resolving the Darfur issue as unique, since we speak and act in a manner our African friends understand and accept," Liu said.

    Over the years, the Sudanese government has cooperated with the AU in addressing conflicts among local tribes in Darfur. Some Western countries had accused it of genocide in the region, an allegation overturned by an on-site UN investigation. Highly suspicious of the motives of Western countries, the Sudanese government had refused to allow any troops from outside the AU into Darfur, even under the banner of UN. The situation became more complicated as the West threatened to impose economic sanctions on Sudan. Some individuals and groups in the West even called for use of force without authorization of the United Nations. The move caused agitation within the African Union, while Sudan vowed to fight for its sovereignty.

    At the crucial moment, China stood up for a political resolution of the Darfur issue. It adopted a clear-cut stance that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan should be respected and that sanctions were not conducive to resolving the issue. In order to avert a possible escalation of the crisis, China immediately embarked on a series of diplomatic efforts.

    Chinese President Hu Jintao met twice with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed El-Bashir from November to February. Hu spelled out China's principles on the Darfur issue, including respect of Sudan's sovereignty and territorial integrity, insistence on a peaceful resolution through dialogue and equal consultation, affirming the role of AU and UN and the imperative of advancing stability and living standards in the region. Chinese leaders have also discussed the Darfur issue with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit and other Sudanese officials when they visited China.

    Meanwhile, Beijing dispatched five groups of envoys to Darfur in the months running up to May, when it appointed Liu Guijin as the special envoy on the Darfur issue. During his visit to Sudan in May, Liu met with President El-Bashir and several government ministers in a bid to persuade them to show greater flexibility on issues such as the proposal put forward by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on deploying an AU-UN joint peacekeeping force in Darfur in three phases. The proposal was the result of a year of mediation by AU and other countries. It won the broad consent of the international community, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. "We made it clear to the Sudanese side that it was in the immediate and long-term interests of Sudan to accept the Annan proposal, since it was universally recognized as a comprehensive solution to the Darfur issue," Liu said.

    "China has been trying every possible channel to carry through the message to Sudan. And the Sudanese government apparently agreed with us," Liu said.

    On June 12, Sudan declared in a joint statement with the AU and UN that it had explicitly accepted the third and final phase of the Annan proposal without reservation. On July 31, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1769 on deploying AU-UN troops in Darfur.

    However, China's position on seeking the cooperation of the Sudanese government rather than asserting pressure or imposing sanctions has drawn criticism in the Western media. Some accused China of protecting "tyranny" for its own benefit and called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games.


    "In fact, China has adopted a very open manner in dealing with the Darfur issue," Liu said. Chinese leaders and officials have taken every opportunity to exchange views with their Western counterparts, including US special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios' visit to Beijing in January and Chinese President Hu Jintao's meetings with G8 leaders in Germany in June. Beijing has welcomed mediation trips to Darfur by international figures such as US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. It holds an open attitude toward France's proposal of opening up a humanitarian corridor to Darfur, on the condition that relevant countries accept it. At the Paris meeting in June, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi acted as a mediator in smoothing out difficulties between Sudan and certain Western countries.

    "We've been trying to persuade our Western colleagues that an iron hand may not necessarily be the only way to solve problems. Imposing sanctions will only make the situation even more complicated by discouraging Sudanese government cooperation on resolving the issue," said Liu, who also attended the international meeting as a representative of the Chinese government. "We can use our wisdom and joint efforts to achieve a better result."

    Under China's presidency, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1769, which is concise and clear-cut in its wording, paving the way for an AU-UN peacekeeping force entering Darfur, but without asserting pressure or imposing sanctions against Sudan. Sudan's UN ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem said many of the Sudanese government's concerns have been taken into consideration in the resolution. For example, the resolution stipulates the AU-UN troops shall conduct the peacekeeping mission in Darfur without prejudicing the role of the Sudanese government.

    "Darfur is Sudan's Darfur. It is Africa's Darfur," Liu said. China has always based its relationship with Africa on equal footing and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. "China's Africa policy is deeply rooted in the philosophy of Chinese culture and in its long history," Liu says.

    The Chinese people, belonging to 56 ethnic groups and speaking hundreds of dialects, believe that different cultures can coexist peacefully with mutual respect. Confucius said more than 2,000 years ago that the Chinese people would not impose on others what they themselves did not desire. Since China and Africa both have painful memories of Western colonization, China will never pursue its own interests at the cost of Africa, Liu says. China's prime interest lies in building a harmonious world, because it can only focus on domestic development under stable international circumstances. And friendship with Africa has always been one of the pillars of China's peaceful foreign policy. "The so-called new colonialism cannot fit China's overall strategy," Liu says. "Accusing China of pursuing neocolonialism in Africa merely reflects the mindset of the accusers who have a colonial past in the continent."


    On China's economic cooperation with Africa, Liu said that both sides abide by the principles of equality, mutual benefit, transparency and non-exclusiveness, he says.

    "China does import oil from Sudan," he said. But Western oil companies take the lion's share of resources on the continent. Chinese companies won oil contracts through international bidding and conducted all projects in Sudan jointly with international partners, including those from Britain, Canada, India, Malaysia and Sudan. Since the oil output is divided in accordance with the share of investment, China only gets a quota to buy a minimum part of the total output. According to AU statistics, 33 percent of Africa's oil exports went to the United States last year. Another 36 percent of African oil flew to Europe, while China only bought 8.7 percent of the total exports.

    Western countries have long been showing increasingly great interest in oil resources in Sudan. When Chinese oil companies entered Sudan 11 years ago, the country had to rely on imports for most of its fuels. Before that, some Western oil giants had been drilling in the pastures of Sudan for more than a decade, without finding any oil deposits of commercial value. Chinese companies helped the country pump the first barrel of oil in 1996, thanks to the unique technology they employed. Three years later, the first shipment of oil left Port Sudan. The economy has taken off in the past six years as oil income topped two billion US dollars a year. Economic growth is expected to reach an unprecedented 13 percent this year.

     The presence of Chinese companies has brought about alternative sources of funds and technology for the development of African countries. Renowned African economist Adebayo Adedeji said African people were able to get tangible benefits from economic cooperation with China, while Western companies had brought little benefit to locals in their exploitation of African resources.

    Chinese companies have invested money back into Sudan for future development. With Chinese investment, Khartoum has developed a complete set of oil refineries, petrochemical plants and trading systems. More than 100,000 Sudanese people have found jobs in cooperative projects between China and Sudan. Chinese companies helped train 6,000 local managers and technicians, who are now serving at key positions in the country's oil industry.

    China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the major Chinese oil company operating in Sudan, has donated more than 35 million US dollars to build roads, bridges, hospitals and schools for local communities, benefiting more than 1.5 million local residents.

    Some 65 kilometers to the north of Khartoum, a China-built power plant is generating one-third of the country's electricity. Further to the north, the big dam of Marawi hydropower plant is taking shape under the supervision of Chinese engineers. On completion next year, it will triple the electricity output in Sudan. It will not only eliminate power shortages in Sudan, but also provide irrigation within a radius of 100 kilometers.

    As the biggest developing country in the world, China is fully aware that Sudan is in urgent need of accelerating development in order to dig out the root of conflict. As Western countries withhold aid and impose sanctions on Sudan, Chinese companies are building water supply projects in Darfur, which are crucial to ease the tension caused by lack of resources. During his visit to Sudan in February, Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to give 40 million yuan worth of humanitarian aid to Darfur on top of the 80 million yuan of aid that already given to Sudan. China has also conributed troops and funds to AU-UN peacekeeing mission in Darfur.

    At the Tripoli meeting in July, AU special envoy for Darfur Salim Ahmed Salim voiced deep concern that peace might not last in Darfur if no progress were made on development. The international community's effort to promote development in Sudan has been handicapped by the West's failures to honor pledges of aid under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Sudanese government and southern rebels. According to the agreement, people in southern Sudan will vote on whether the region will stay in a unified Sudan or split in 2011. And the Darfur region will hold a referendum in 2010. Salim said if the largest country in Africa split, it would send shock waves through the neighboring countries and mean a disaster for the whole continent.

    "When I listen to him, I feel his deep love for Africa and his deep worries," Liu said when recalling a conversation with Salim at the meeting. That's why China has been calling for a "double track" approach in addressing the Darfur issue, namely applying balanced and parallel efforts on peacekeeping and a political resolution of the issue. As rebel groups previously not included in the peace process sat down in talks with the AU and UN special envoys in Arusha, Tanzania, in August, the two wheels of the Darfur issue at last started to roll simultaneously toward a lasting peace.

    In a meeting with Liu, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said China had spoken what Africa wanted to say.

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