To Obama in China: Don't Shy Away From Sudan, Congo

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President Obama has a huge opportunity to advance two of the most important peace and human rights causes on the continent of Africa during his meetings with Chinese officials this week, and particularly in the follow-up to this potentially historic visit.

In both Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the two deadliest wars in the world, China has invested or struck trade deals worth billions of dollars and thus has a vested interest in peace and security in both of those troubled countries. President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao may not see eye to eye on human rights promotion, but at the end of the day their policy objectives are similar in that they both seek peace.

In Sudan, the Chinese stand to lose out mightily if the Comprehensive Peace Agreement collapses and full scale war erupts. As the largest investor by far in Sudan's oil sector, China has a very practical reason to work together with the U.S. and other world leaders to press for full implementation of the CPA -- before it unravels to the point of no return. Southern leaders have already started to warn that they will unilaterally declare independence if the referendum slated for just 14 months from now is threatened. And southern officials admit privately that if war does break out they will target oil installations.

As a key investor in Congo's mining sector and with millions dollars worth of infrastructure projects, Chinese investments are directly impacted by prolonged war and deeply rooted corruption. China would see a far greater long-term return on its investments with greater stability in Congo.

The urgency to implement the new U.S. policy in Sudan and forge a comprehensive solution to the crisis in Congo cannot be overstated. The effectiveness of U.S. efforts rests significantly with the ability to work multilaterally with key interlocutors like China.

President Obama should make it clear that the United States sees cooperation to resolve issues affecting the conflicts in Sudan and Congo as an important element of U.S.-Sino relations. By pushing the Chinese government to play a constructive role in resolving the Sudan and Congo conflicts, President Obama would kick U.S.-China engagement up a notch and empower his full-time point people on these issues -- Scott Gration in Sudan and Howard Wolpe in the Great Lakes region -- to use the president's personal commitment as leverage.

Developing a shared agenda of peace between our two countries will certainly be much harder work than just business as usual, but the payoff in the form of a coordinated peace policy in Sudan and Congo would be extraordinary. This is entirely consistent with the president's message that the U.S. and China don't have to be rivals, and that cooperation can yield significant benefits. The bottom line is that President Obama needs to publicly engage in the challenges threatening Sudan and Congo, and not doing so with key player China would be an opportunity missed.

Let President Obama know that you expect him to raise the alarm about the deadly conflicts in Sudan and Congo during his trip to China. Get in touch with the White House and your members of Congress at enoughproject.org/SudanNow.

For an overview of the conflicts in eastern Congo and in Sudan, check out this recent video clip of an interview on The Young Turks.


John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.