The summer Olympics provided a high-wattage showcase for China's
ascendance on the world stage, one nonetheless marred by ongoing
concerns about its support for the Sudanese regime's genocide in
Darfur. These concerns will only intensify when China assumes the
presidency of the United Nations Security Council in October, where it
will nominally lead efforts to maintain peace throughout the world,
even as it continues to underwrite the mass killings in Darfur.
This is because China is the largest supplier of small arms to Sudan,
among other countries. Human rights organizations are calling for
expansion of an arms embargo that would eliminate loopholes China and
Sudan currently exploit to transfer arms into the hands of Sudanese
government forces and the Janjaweed militia, now responsible for the
deaths of more than 450,000 people. The same call has been echoed by
Congress: last week [Sept 15], Sens. Bill Nelson and James Inhofe
introduced a Senate resolution calling for an expanded and enforced
arms embargo against Sudan, followed closely behind by a House
resolution with the same aim introduced by Reps. James McGovern, Brad
Miller and Scott Garrett.
Yet expansion and enforcement of the embargo will not happen without
concerted pressure from other members of the UN Security Council,
including the United States. And this time China must feel the heat.
The continued flow of arms, and small arms in particular, is fueling
violence against Darfuris by the government of President Omar
al-Bashir. Last month Sudanese government forces attacked one of
Darfur's largest camps for displaced people. Civilians using sticks,
spears and knives faced down machine guns and automatic weapons of the
kind sent by China. More than 30 people were slaughtered.
Humanitarian workers have been detained, kidnapped, assaulted and
killed by criminals armed with such weapons, jeopardizing the delivery
of desperately needed aid.
Many countries are implicated in the continued supply of arms, but the
primary responsibility lies with two Security Council members: Russia
and China. While Russia is a major supplier of heavy weapons, China
bears the distinction of providing an estimated 90 percent of Sudan's
small arms imports, the very weapons used to kill civilians. A recent
BBC report indicated that China had also supplied military trucks and
was training pilots to fly fighter jets used in Darfur.
China denies that its actions contravene the arms embargo. It has
tried to wash its hands of any role in the genocide with a shifting
deck of denials: We are no longer supplying any arms to Sudan. Our
sales comprised just a fraction of Sudan's imports. We do our best to
prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands. But in light of
Khartoum's refusal to cooperate with the embargo, China cannot ensure
that arms are not being transferred to Darfur. China's continued
sales of arms to Khartoum may constitute a breach of the Genocide
Convention, which requires states to prevent and refrain from
complicity in genocide.
Why does China persist? Reports conducted by the Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute indicate that the revenues
China generates through the sales of arms to Sudan are minimal.
Rather, the weapons transfers serve to strengthen ties between the two
countries and ensure China's continued access to Sudan's oil reserves.
In addition, China uses its permanent seat in the U.N. Security
Council to provide Khartoum with diplomatic protection. China has,
for example, abstained from voting on the arms embargo resolutions.
It is of course imperative that the U.S. press Russia and other
suppliers to suspend arms sales to Sudan, but particular attention
must be paid to China because of its trade relationship and close
diplomatic ties to Sudan. The United States can begin by introducing
a resolution to expand the current U.N. arms embargo this October.
Stemming the flow of arms to Sudan alone won't stop the bloodshed. But
it is a profound and important step the world's nations can take
responsibility for, right now, toward disarming criminals actively
perpetrating genocide. While it is not a substitute for peace, the
embargo can and will save lives and improve the situation on the
ground in the immediate term. The international community -- China
included -- owes the people of Darfur at least that much.