Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 11 February 2007

On Darfur, China and the 2008 Olympic Games


An open letter to Darfur activists and advocates---

By Eric Reeves

Feb 10, 2007 — The full-scale launch of a large, organized campaign to highlight China’s complicity in the Darfur genocide appears likely to begin soon. But it’s past time to start thinking about how to tap the creative power of students and other Darfur advocates in this critical initiative. Enough of selling green bracelets and writing letters to those who are content with posturing or avoiding the central challenge of the moment: changing the international diplomatic dynamic in ways that will result in deployment of an international peace-support operation to Darfur, one that can provide adequate protection to civilians and humanitarians. Without such security, humanitarian organizations will continue to withdraw and hundreds of thousands of additional Darfuri lives will be lost.

It’s time, now, to begin shaming China---demanding that if the Beijing government is going to host the premier international event, the Summer Olympic Games of 2008, they must be responsible international partners. China’s slogan for these Olympic Games---“One world, one dream”---is a ghastly irony, given Beijing’s complicity in the Darfur genocide (see the website for China’s hosting of the Olympic Games at http://www.olympic.org/uk/games/beijing/index_uk.asp). The Chinese leadership must understand that if they refuse to use their unrivaled political, economic, and diplomatic leverage with Khartoum to secure access for the force authorized under UN Security Council Resolution 1706, then they will face an extremely vigorous, unrelenting, and omnipresent campaign to shame them over this refusal.

To succeed, such a campaign must be fully international in character. The first order of business, I believe, is to fashion creative means for translating key talking points and broader analyses into a variety of languages and exporting them to as many countries as possible. If people come to understand the connection between China as host of the Olympic Games and China as silent partner in the Darfur genocide, they may well be moved to object to this intensely dismaying double role. But they must understand the connection clearly.

How to proceed? With knowledge comes both power and responsibility; the key task is to transfer knowledge to those presently ignorant of China’s role in Sudan generally and Darfur specifically. Some possible bullet points are offered below. Further below is an analysis of Chinese President Hu’s recent business trip to Khartoum, as well as two opinion pieces on the “Genocide Olympics.”

It is important to remember that this should not, in my strongly held view, be a campaign to boycott the Olympics: a boycott would defeat the whole purpose of the campaign, and be deeply divisive. Moreover, if a boycott were successful (extremely unlikely) the political platform from which to challenge China would disappear. Further, a boycott in and of itself achieves nothing: the challenge is to shame China, to hold Beijing’s leaders accountable, to make them understand that without exerting all necessary pressure on Khartoum, the current campaign will only grow in strength and visibility right up to the Opening Ceremonies.

Nor are athletes the targets. Certainly they can be encouraged to wear a green stripe, of whatever prominence and size they dare, on their athletic attire as a symbol of their support for the people of Darfur. Certainly they should be encouraged to speak out publicly on Darfur. But the Olympic athletes are not the target: the Beijing regime is. The regime alone has the power to change the current diplomatic dynamic in ways that will force Khartoum to allow in the forces that can provide security to the victims of ongoing genocide. China, not the Olympic Games or its participants, is the target.

What are the key initial tasks?

There is tremendous scope for creative advocacy here, and for the deployment of diverse skills and energies: linguistiet, communications, graphic design, advocacy writing, and organizational. What happens, for example, if 1,000 students and advocates demonstrate before the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, declaring with banner, placards, and T-shirts that China will be held accountable for its complicity in the Darfur genocide? What happens if such demonstrations are continuous, and grow, and take place outside China’s embassies in other countries? in many other countries? What happens if everywhere---everywhere---Chinese diplomats and politicians travel they are confronted by those who insist on making this an occasion for highlighting China’s role in the Darfur genocide?

Aspiring or experienced documentarians can make full use of extensive and widely available photography and videography to make short films that highlight the tradition of the Olympic Games, the Darfur genocide, and China’s role. It would not be inappropriate to include footage of the 1936 Olympic Games, held in Nazi Germany, as an example of a precedent for current concerns about genocide in Darfur. The opportunities for graphic artists, using photography and other resources, are also innumerable. Everything from high-quality PDF files to screensavers, bumper-stickers, posters, T-shirts, and coffee mugs can send the key message.

Translation is a key task: this cannot be an American or even Western campaign. China must feel the shaming pressure from all quarters. Those with advanced language skills---French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Swahili, German, Italian, Russian, Hungarian, Czech, or others---should start putting those skills to use in translating key texts and advocacy suggestions from English. Those with contacts in other countries should start networking, creating an advocacy presence on as many international fronts as possible. Human Rights in China (http://www.hrichina.org/public/index) may be an organization with the potential to introduce the issue into China itself. Other such means of taking the campaign directly to Beijing are available.

Letter-writing and petition campaigns that alert the International Olympic Committee (http://www.olympic.org/uk/index_uk.asp) to the terrible disgrace of China’s dual role---sustaining the Darfur genocide and hosting the Games---will certainly register. Similar campaigns to urge Olympic corporate sponsors to use their leverage with the Chinese might also be effective: this is the season for corporate sponsorship agreements to be finalized.

To succeed, this campaign must go “viral”: it must be potent, creative, focused, and uncontrollable. It must take every advantage of the various means offered by the era of electronic communication (I’ll offer links on my website, www.sudanreeves.org, to particularly useful or creative efforts). The Chinese must be forced to see that there is a stark choice before them: either they use their leverage effectively with Khartoum and secure the regime’s assent for deployment of the UN peace support operation---authorized by Security Council Resolution 1706---or they will be the target of the most powerful international shaming campaign in history. The Chinese must understand that there is no third option, no “third way.”

The general lack of effective advocacy actions and initiatives has not been lost on Khartoum’s ruthless génocidaires. Despite the very high profile and potent nature of the American Darfur advocacy movement, and despite the enormous and consequential successes of the American-led divestment campaign, the pressure must be ratcheted up a good deal higher. Other European companies may well follow the lead of Germany’s Siemens and Switzerland’s ABB Ltd: both recently suspended operations in Sudan, as demanded by the divestment campaign that is currently a powerful success nationally. Such ongoing loss of European commercial and capital investment certainly has the full attention of the National Islamic Front leadership. But these losses musfrom the Chinese, Khartoum’s dominant economic partner and military enabler, and heretofore unwavering diplomatic protector.

The task is daunting but fully practicable, given the moral passion and creative energies of the Darfur advocacy community. Let the campaigns begin!


Some suggested bullet points on China’s complicity in the Darfur genocide:


-  •China abstained from UN Security Council Resolution 1706 (August 2006), compromising international support for a critically needed peace support operation in Darfur

-  •China has repeatedly and uncritically supported claims of national sovereignty by Khartoum, emboldening the regime in its defiance of the UN and international community

-  •In pursuit of Sudan’s oil riches, China has for many years ignored massive human rights abuses and atrocity crimes by the Khartoum regime throughout Sudan

-  •China has been Khartoum’s leading weapons supplier over the past decade and more; many of these weapons have been used in Darfur

-  •China has sent the diplomatic signals which, in their tepid nature, convince Khartoum it can complete its genocidal counter-insurgency war in Darfur without serious consequences



•It is time for China to recognize that it cannot be a legitimate host of the 2008 Olympic Games while remaining complicit in Darfur’s genocidal destruction. China must use its enormous leverage with Khartoum to secure consent for the deployment of international forces fully capable of protecting civilians and humanitarians in Darfur and eastern Chad.

•If China refuses, Beijing must face an unprecedented, unwavering, unstoppable campaign of shame---one that will attach an unbearable opprobrium to genocidal complicity.


“Understanding President Hu’s Business Trip to Khartoum” at

Articles on the “Genocide Olympics” at

* Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has published extensively on Sudan. He can be reached at ereeves@smith.edu; website : www.sudanreeves.org

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