Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hollywood Pressures China on Darfur

It is interesting to note what gets the Chinese government's attention.

The awarding of the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing was generally seen by most human rights organizations as a significant setback for freedom in China, even as Olympic officials declared that they believed that it would lead to greater freedoms in the country. In the years since, the human rights activists have been proven correct as China has not only cracked down harder on dissidents within its borders but has been perhaps the biggest obstacle to putting effective pressure on Sudan in its genocidal activities in Darfur. China has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs, insisting that others also keep quiet about how it conducts its own internal affairs. Hence, for the past two years, China has resisted attempts for United Nations sanctions on Sudan.

However, on April 9, Zhai Jun, a senior Chinese official, traveled to Sudan to push the government to accept a UN peacekeeping force. Zhai even went to Darfur and toured three refugee camps.

So, what is going on? New York Times reporter Helene Cooper notes that the credit goes to Hollywood, of all things. According to Cooper's article of April 12, actress Mia Farrow, a good-will ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, started a campaign last month to label the Games in Beijing the "Genocide Olympics". She began calling on corporate sponsors, including Steven Spielberg, who is an artistic adviser to China for the Games, to publicly exhort China to do something about Darfur.

According to Cooper:

In a March 28 op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal, she warned Mr. Spielberg that he could "go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games," a reference to a German filmmaker who made Nazi propaganda films.

Four days later, Mr. Spielberg sent a letter to President Hu Jintao of China, condemning the killings in Darfur and asking the Chinese government to use its influence in the region "to bring an end to the human suffering there," according to Mr. Spielberg's spokesman, Marvin Levy.

China soon dispatched Mr. Zhai to Darfur, a turnaround that served as a classic study of how a pressure campaign, aimed to strike Beijing in a vulnerable spot at a vulnerable time, could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not.

Just how significant this turns out is anyone's guess. China has been active in pressuring other governments not to link Darfur and participation in the 2008 Olympics. For two years, they have been trying to stare down their critics, believing that it was not that big of a problem. But this week, China blinked.

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