By Julia Fromholz
Director, Crimes Against Humanity Program
President Obama has a full agenda for his current trip to China: climate change, energy, North Korea, Iran, and human rights are just some of the topics on the White House's list. Given the influence of his hosts in Beijing on the Government of Sudan, President Obama should take this opportunity to discuss not only the Chinese government's domestic human rights abuses but also its role in human rights crises overseas--specifically in Sudan.
China is by far the largest known provider of small arms, small arms parts, and ammunition to Sudan. Chinese-manufactured arms and ammunition were recently singled out as "prominent" by the Panel of Experts investigating violations of a United Nations arms embargo imposed on Darfur in 2005. In addition, an earlier expert panel noted the January 2007 arrival in South Darfur of three Chinese A-5 "Fantan" ground attack jets, which were manufactured by the Nanchang factory in China and reportedly delivered to Khartoum in 2006.
According to the government of Sudan's own reported figures, from 2004 to 2006, Sudan purchased ninety percent of its small arms from China, and from 2003 to 2006, this amounted to over $55 million worth of small arms. Moreover, Chinese arms sales continued after the United Nations imposed an embargo on arms transfers to Darfur in 2005.
The Chinese government has protested that its sales of arms and ammunition to Khartoum are licit, as the U.N. arms embargo, imposed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1591, is commonly read to bar transfers of arms and ammunition only into Darfur. However, the embargo also requires the Government of Sudan to request and receive authorization from the U.N. Sudan Sanctions Committee before transferring arms into Darfur. Sudanese government officials have plainly stated their refusal to comply with that obligation. Furthermore, the Darfur Panels of Experts have repeatedly reported both violations of the embargo by the Government of Sudan and the presence of Chinese-manufactured arms in Darfur. The Chinese government therefore cannot be unaware of the possibility that weapons sold to Sudan will end up being used in Darfur.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a letter to Human Rights First in March of this year, "We believe that the Chinese government needs to abide by the spirit as much as the letter of UN Security Council Resolution 1591 (2005) and subsequent resolutions. The Chinese government also should prevent Chinese companies from selling weapons to Khartoum. In order to bring an end to hostilities in Darfur, we must effectively deny all combatants access to the tools of war."
While China is not the only country exporting arms to the Government of Sudan, no other country has more influence in Khartoum, thanks to Chinese government investments in Sudanese infrastructure, oil industry, and military training. As Secretary Clinton stated in her letter, "As Sudan's largest export partner and greatest source of foreign investment, China is in a position to exert pressure on Khartoum to resolve the conflict in Darfur and implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement."
China's sales of arms and ammunition help sustain the conflict in Darfur and undermine international efforts to end it. In his meetings with President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials, President Obama should press for specific steps that will help lead to the peace in Darfur that both countries seek. President Obama should take up the spirit and letter of Secretary Clinton's words by pressing for an immediate suspension of all arms and ammunition transfers by China to Sudan, as well as a commitment by the Chinese government not to obstruct enforcement of the arms embargo. Help us send him this message - urging him to raise the problem of Chinese arms sales to Sudan in his meetings with President Hu Jintao and others, today.