Fallout from the Sudan-Spielberg Free-for-All

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 2/16/2008 08:30:00 PM
It seems that activists are targeting more high-profile artists to back away from the Beijing Olympics according to this piece in the Guardian. As I mentioned earlier, this is as good time as any if drawing the attention of the normally insular Chinese officialdom is the objective:

Steven Spielberg was just the beginning. The Oscar-winning director's decision to resign as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics this summer was a major victory for human rights groups working to shine an embarrassing international spotlight on China's role in the mass killings in Darfur.

But activists are not letting up, intensifying their focus on corporate sponsors of the Olympics and other celebrities lending their name to the games. The big names who remain on board the Beijing creative team include Quincy Jones, who said this week that he was reconsidering his deal to write the Olympics theme song, and film director Ang Lee, who censored his latest film for broadcast in China at the government's request.

"These people I know are under some pressure now to make a statement," said Jill Savitt, director of Dream for Darfur, which aims to push China into using its influence with the Sudanese government to end the brutal violence in the Darfur region.

"We saw this with Spielberg: it's not an intuitive issue," Savitt added. "How is China related to the Darfur genocide? ... There's a whole lot of activity going on, with these folks beginning to educate themselves."

Zhang Yimou, the Chinese-born director of action films Hero and Raise the Red Lantern, is also serving as an artistic adviser to the Olympics, and classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma plans to tour and perform during the Special Olympics in Shanghai. In the wake of Spielberg's withdrawal, campaigners are seeking more high-profile criticism of China for its continued weapons and oil sales to Sudan while Darfur is engulfed by violence.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says that it isn't going to mix it with activists trying to get it to talk with the Chinese government over Darfur, stating (surprise!) the IOC is a sporting, not a political organization. Pressure tactics are also being mounted against MNC Olympic advertising sponsors. Can the MNCs really prod China on the Darfur matter? You need to disaggregate this question into (1) do these companies have real leverage on China? and (2) are they obligated to take up the issue of human rights with China? Thorny questions, indeed...

For the corporations that are linking their brand to the games, however, activists are using a different kind of pressure. Dream for Darfur met 19 Olympic sponsors in June, asking them to commit to four gestures, Savitt said.

When the group assembled a "report card" on the corporations' cooperation, 13 of the 19 got failing grades. General Electric earned a C-plus for simply noting China's friendship with the Sudanese regime during discussions with the International Olympic Committee. "Not exactly a profile in courage," Savitt said.

Despite the dismal performance from corporate sponsors such as Microsoft, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola, a second report card is forthcoming from the group. The requests are still simple: businesses are asked to meet the actor Mia Farrow, who played a major role in persuading Spielberg to withdraw from the games; contact UN officials about the status of peacekeepers in Darfur; and call for Sudanese officials who are under indictment at the international criminal court to be barred from the Olympics.

And any companies scoring below a C on the second report card will earn public demonstrations at their offices, Savitt vowed, most likely with survivors of Darfur. Another consequence will come in the form of a mass boycott of TV adverts run by the Olympic sponsors, a campaign called Turn Off For Darfur.

What does Dream for Darfur call for? The first set of objectives is, I believe, more reasonable. UNAMID is the United Nations / African Union Mission in Darfur, BTW:
China should use all the influence at its disposal to press the Sudanese government to a) permit the swift, full and effective deployment of UNAMID; b) implement the North-South peace deal and participate constructively in the Darfur peace process; and c) allow the unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid in Darfur and Eastern Chad. China will only pass this test once Sudan has acted accordingly in all three areas.
The second set are definitely in the "dream on" category, especially the first two points:
  1. Support punitive measures, such as UN Security Council targeted sanctions, against Khartoum officials, until peace and security for Darfur is achieved. UN targeted sanctions should be imposed immediately against government, rebel, or militia officials who are responsible for undermining UNAMID’s deployment, the North-South peace deal, or regional stability, such as attempting to overthrow the government in neighboring Chad.

  2. Verifiably suspend all military cooperation with the Khartoum regime, including weapons transfers, until peace and security for Darfur is achieved.

  3. Work with the United States, France, and the United Kingdom in a quartet supporting UN and African Union initiatives in Darfur, Southern Sudan, and Chad. This cooperative work on the peace process needs to be comprehensive. The problems of Darfur, Southern Sudan, and Chad are intertwined, so unless peace is advanced on all of these fronts it will be unlikely to be achieved on any of these fronts.
How is Chinese officialdom acting in response? One of the benefits of reading the Chinese press is that you know its line is not far from the Communist Party's, if nothing else. Here are the four key talking points from the China Daily, our favorite official publication:

Firstly, China has been working closely with the United Nations to resolve the Darfur crisis through political means, said the ambassador.

On July 31 last year, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1769, authorizing the deployment a hybrid UN and African Union (AU) force in Darfur, which marks a great achievement in the settlement of the crisis there.

China helped push forward the Sudanese government, the AU and the UN reaching consensus on the resolution on the hybrid force to Darfur, which did not come easily and our efforts have been applauded by the international community, Li said.

China also made proposals on the peaceful settlement of the Darfur issue, which were approved by various parties concerned.

What's more, last year when Sudan and the UN differed over the deployment of hybrid peacekeeping forces, China appointed Liu Guijin, a veteran diplomat as a special envoy on the issue, who traveled to Khartoum three times to persuade the Sudanese government to accept the UN resolution.

Liu also attended two peace talks on Darfur, and shuttled between the United States, major African countries, the UN, the AU, the Arab Union and the European Union, to facilitate the communication and coordination between various parties on the issue.

The Chinese government has also maintained sound communication with the Sudanese government, held discussions with it on the basis of respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. [This is not reassuring. It's the old line "we sold them weapons and it's really none of our business what they do with them."]

China sees to it that the concerns of the Sudanese government are heard, while conveying to the government the international community's concern over Darfur.

Secondly, China has actively participated in the hybrid peacekeeping efforts in Darfur upheld by the UN and the AU, and is the first non-African country to sent peacekeeping troops to the Darfur region.

China has promised to send a 315-strong engineering unit to Darfur. A 140-member advance troop arrived in Darfur last November, the first UN peacekeeping force there in the region, and more will be gradually deployed.

The Chinese engineering troops have been actively engaged in the construction and other works in the UN peacekeeping camps, their outstanding contribution there won them hearty praises from the locals, and UN officials there said Chinese peacekeeping forces are making miracles happen there [hyperbole, eh?].

Thirdly, in order to improve the humanitarian situation in Darfur, China has provided material assistance worth 80 million RMB (about 11 million U.S. dollars) to Darfur, 1.8 million U.S. dollars aid to African Union, and 500,000 U.S. dollars donation to the U.N. fund for solving Darfur issue, and Chinese firms have also offered help.

Fourthly, China also has encouraged entrepreneurs to help the development in the Darfur region.

In recent years, Chinese companies have helped dig 46 wells, build 20 small-scale power plants in Darfur and water supply projects in southern and northern Darfur states. Chinese companies also provided computer equipment and facilitated technical training in the region.

Therefore, as is obvious to anyone in the international community that is not biased against China, China has been playing its due part in helping resolve the Darfur issue, and that stance of China definitely deserves objective and just treatment, Li said.