Monday, April 27, 2009

China Advises Sudan Not to Let Darfur Crisis Worsen

By Bill Varner, March 18 (Bloomberg)

China has expressed “serious concern” to Sudan’s government about the expulsion of aid workers from Darfur, yet won’t back United Nations Security Council pressure to reverse the decision, China’s envoy said.

“We have openly expressed our concern,” China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Yesui, said in an interview in New York. “We have advised the Sudanese government to be restrained. We told them we do not want the humanitarian situation to worsen.”

Zhang wouldn’t say whether his government has used its influence as the biggest foreign investor in Sudan’s oil industry to pressure the government in Khartoum to reverse the decision. China “did it in our own way,” Zhang said.

The expelled aid groups say that 1 million people in Darfur -- where government-backed militias have fought local rebels -- are at risk of life-threatening illnesses and hunger because of the suspension of relief work.

Asked whether China would support a Security Council statement or resolution urging Sudan to allow the 16 international and local aid groups to return to Darfur, Zhang said his government would want the UN panel to “address this issue in a comprehensive fashion.” There are “many issues that are connected,” he said.

China last week blocked a proposed statement on the expulsion of the aid workers by demanding that it include a call for suspension of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Umar al-Bashir for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

‘Necessary Influences’

“What we are trying to do is build up the necessary influences on Bashir to get them to change course,” British Ambassador to the UN John Sawers said. “The Security Council may have a role in that, but it is not immediately evident that producing something in the council, especially if it is not unanimously agreed, would send the message that we are looking for.”

Yukio Takasu, Japan’s ambassador to the UN, said it was “very disappointing” that the Security Council can’t agree on a response to the expulsion of the aid groups.

In a sign that the U.S. intends to intensify its diplomacy on the issue, President Barack Obama appointed retired Air Force Major General Scott Gration today as his special envoy to Sudan. Obama said the appointment signals his administration’s “commitment to support the people of Sudan while seeking a lasting settlement to the violence that has claimed so many innocent lives.”

Swahili Speaker

Gration, a Swahili speaker, was an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign and the chief executive officer of Millennium Villages, a non-profit organization that works to end poverty in Africa. He grew up on the continent, where his parents worked as missionaries.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on March 12 that he appealed to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to intervene with Sudan. He said Yang promised to “do all they could do.”

Ban wants the government in Beijing to repeat the decisive role Wang Guangya, China’s former UN ambassador, played in persuading Bashir to accept a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur in 2006. China in that instance broke with its tradition of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, Wang later said.

Close Ally

China is among Sudan’s closest allies, with China National Petroleum Corp. the biggest foreign oil producer in the nation. Sudan signed a contract with China to build a road from Darfur to the neighboring Kordofan region, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said on March 7, showing China’s willingness to do business there after Bashir’s indictment.

The conflict in Darfur pits government-backed militias against rebel groups that want a bigger share of power and oil wealth. As many as 300,000 people have died and more than 2.7 million have been displaced in the region since February 2003, the UN says. Sudan says only about 10,000 people may have died.

China backs calls by the Arab League and the AU for the Security Council to use its power under Article 16 of the Rome Statute that set up the ICC to suspend the arrest warrant for one year, the Chinese foreign ministry’s Web site cited spokesman Qin Gang as saying on March 5.