China, Sudan and Darfur

At Chinese EmbassyI went together with Mark Lancaster (Tory No 2 in International Development and a serving soldier) to the Chinese Embassy to have a meeting with Professor Zhao Yongren, Counsellor Political Section and Parliamentary Affairs Officer and Dr. Zhang Lirong, Chief Political Section.

We were presenting a letter signed by 100 MPs asking China to help further with ending the genocide in Darfur.

China has clearly been instrumental in promoting modest progress over Darfur but it must continue to use its considerable influence in Sudan to promote the cause of peace and development. It particular, it could send clearer messages to the Sudanese Government by using its diplomatic, military, humanitarian, and economic ties to greater effect.

So the good news so far: the Chinese Government joined in the unanimous UN Security Council (UNSC) vote to authorise, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, deployment of 26,000 peacekeeping troops and civilian police to Darfur (the joint African Union-United Nations Peacekeeping force). China’s appointment of a Government Special Representative on the Darfur issue, Liu Guijin, played a key role in gaining the Government of Sudan’s acceptance to the peacekeeping force – breaking a long held deadlock. China has sent some 300 engineers to Darfur to back up the UNAMID peacekeeping mission as part of the heavy support package.

But not everything in the garden is rosy and there are still mixed messages coming out of China. Reports indicate that China worked behind the scenes to significantly weaken the terms of UNSC Resolution 1769 (e.g. removing the ‘ability to disarm militia’ mandate for the peacekeeping force). China hasn’t been pressing properly for those indicted by the International Criminal Court to be handed over. Also, two recently released studies by well-respected organizations have fuelled concerns that weapons from China are being used against the people of Darfur, and that China is not doing enough to prevent such usage. Further, in the spring of 2007, China indicated its desire to further its military relationship with Sudan “in every sphere.”

China has extended some humanitarian aid to the people of Darfur in 2007 but such aid has been far less than the new support it has provided to the government of Sudan. A striking example was provided during President Hu’s February visit to Khartoum, during which he announced several new economic aid packages to Sudan, including an interest-free loan to construct a Presidential Palace. The sums involved were dramatically larger than the modest amount of new humanitarian aid provided.

Trade between the two countries more than doubled in the first half of 2007. China also continues to sign new accords, such as oil development agreements, that strengthen economic ties between the two countries.

The words of Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in March are rather worrying in fact: “Our assistance is free of any political pressure and helps resolve specific problems, a good demonstration of China’s peaceful development road and constructive role in the world”; in other words, ‘we’re not going to exert as much pressure as we could’. Not good!

The specific asks we put forward at the meeting today were that China should:

  • Use its position as a leading member of both the Security Council and the G-77 to push for the swift recruitment and deployment of the peacekeeping mission authorized by UNSCR 1769.
  • Contribute helicopters and heavy transport vehicles to the UNAMID mission to help fill the gaps in these areas (this applies to whole international community).
  • Review the sale of arms and military cooperation with Sudan until atrocities have stopped, and a stable peace has been built; and encourage the Government of Sudan to disarm militias and hold the perpetrators of war crimes to account.
  • Continue to work harmoniously with other countries to strengthen the political peace process led by the African Union and United Nations envoys, and to pressure all parties to participate fully and unconditionally in peace talks.
  • Provide greater humanitarian assistance to Darfuri civilians.
  • Make clear to Sudan that if it obstructs progress towards peace or peacekeeping, this will damage Chinese-Sudanese relations— possibly including trade and investment ties.

The meeting was a little frosty. The Chinese were unhappy that the media had got hold of the story that we were doing this today. But as I explained – in a democracy this is a positive thing. When one hundred MPs feel strongly enough to take this action and China is willing as at this meeting to enter a dialogue – that is news – and it is good news.

So – a start has been made of engagement. China is so hugely influential with Khartoum and such an important superpower it has to be right to try and form partnerships and engagement. In terms of the meeting – views were exchanged – and that in itself is progress. I am optimistic that at our next meeting – we will make progress. It is important to start the journey – but the destination is still zillions of miles away.

Last stop of the day – 18 Doughty Street TV a good robust debate around Saudi, Scotland and Immigration!