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CHINA/SUDAN: Move to Get Al-Bashir Off Genocide Charges

Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Jul 31 2008 (IPS) - China has indicated keenness to have the case for indictment of Sudanese president Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir on charges of genocide suspended, saying the allegations are complicating peace negotiations in the war-torn Darfur region.

Xi Jinping, Chinese vice-president and designated to succeed party chief Hu Jintao, told the Sudanese president’s special envoy that China was greatly concerned by the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) attempts to prosecute Al-Bashir.

“Outside interference in Sudan might damage the Darfur peace process,” Xi was quoted as telling special envoy Awad Ahmed al-Jaz in Beijing this week.

A similar objection was raised by the ‘People’s Daily,’ the official newspaper of the ruling Communist party, right after the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir on Jul. 14. He accused the Sudanese president of masterminding a campaign of tribal genocide that killed 35,000 people outright and another 100,000 through “slow death” in his country’s Darfur region.

China is opposed to the indictment because it could “pour oil on fire… at a sensitive and crucial time” for Darfur, the paper said. The case could “threaten with destruction efforts for political negotiations between the Sudan government and anti-government armed forces’’.

“Alleviating this problem demands all sides exercise prudence, consult on an equal basis and strive to cooperate, not rashly push for sanctions, indictments, verdicts and even issuing arrest warrants,” the Chinese commentary said.

Having invested diplomatic efforts into building its credentials as a trustworthy world player, Beijing does not want to be seen blocking a solution to a serious humanitarian crisis being investigated for allegations of genocide. As an Olympic host for the summer games in August, China also faces threats of protests over its ties with Sudan.

But at a time of high oil prices and global inflation, China is also keen to protect its oil interests in Sudan. China obtains seven percent of its oil imports from the African country. The Bank of Sudan estimates that the country sells more than 80 percent of its crude to China.

Over the past several years, Beijing has developed a number of oil fields, built a 930-mile (1,496 km) pipeline, a refinery and a port. As a country, Sudan represents one of China’s largest overseas investments, worth more than three billion US dollars.

The government in Khartoum is believed to have a grip on Africa’s greatest unexploited oil resources, surpassing even those in the Gulf of Guinea. Sudan’s oilfields produce an estimated 500,000 barrels a day, but oil analysts say this represents only 15 percent of Sudan’s total reserves. With an economy that has maintained double-digit growth in five consecutive years, China is keen to retain its presence in Sudan as a key investor and commodities buyer to secure its future supplies.

But the conflict in Darfur that has claimed more than 300,000 lives and displaced some 2.5 million people from their homes in western Sudan since 2003 has cast a shadow on China’s presence in the region. As a veto wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, China has abstained from voting on most measures designed to entice or force Sudan to protect human rights there.

China is also Khartoum’s biggest arms supplier and has been accused by rights organisations of violating the U.N. arms embargo in Darfur by supplying arms to government-backed militia that has been battling rebels there for five years.

Earlier this year, U.S. film director Steven Spielberg pulled out as one of the Beijing games’ artistic advisers in protest over China’s close economic ties with Sudan and its protection of Khartoum. Consequent calls for political leaders to boycott the Olympics have mostly gone unheeded but the criticism has pushed Beijing to take a more active, and public, role in resolving the Darfur conflict.

Beijing defends its role in the region by stressing the largess of its aid contribution to the war-torn country and explaining the success of its “subtle diplomacy” in pushing the Sudanese government to accept United Nations-African Union peacekeeping forces.

Chinese diplomats say the country has provided material aid worth 80 million yuan (11 million dollars) to Sudan. This month Beijing gave a ceremonial send-off to 172 People’s Liberation Army engineers, joining another group of 143 Chinese peacekeepers at the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping operation in Darfur.

China opposes Al-Bashir’s indictment because it fears it would set a precedent that could, at some point, be turned on itself, argued Ren Xiao, professor at Institute of International Studies at Shanghai Fudan University.

“China’s diplomatic thoughts and practices originate from the heritage of traditional Chinese thinking as magnanimity, embodied by Confucius’s millennium-old saying of ‘do not do to others what you would not have them do to you’,” he wrote in a commentary on China’s stance on Al-Bashir’s indictment in the ‘China Daily’ last week.

But Chinese academics have also seized on the arrest of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic on charges of genocide this month to raise questions about the credibility of the ICC in prosecuting war criminals.

“It is a legitimate question to ask why some who were indicted go unpunished while a small number of crime perpetrators are called to justice,” says Yu Fei, professor at the China Politics and Law University. “The International Crime Tribunal for former Yugoslavia is perceived as an enhancement of the international criminal justice delivered at the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals but it has been mired in controversy. And given how many other crime tribunals have been set up recently one needs to consider whose justice is being served out there.”

In his meeting with Sudan’s special envoy this week Vice-President Xi Jinping suggested relevant parties should consider the Arab League and African Union calls on the U.N. Security Council to halt sentencing Al-Bashir.

Also this week, China and Russia backed a proposal submitted by Libya and South Africa to the Security Council to include a provision halting the ICC action against Al-Bashir in a resolution aimed at extending the mandate of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

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