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Published in The Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2006
China's Crude Conscience


By Ronan Farrow

EL FASHER, Sudan -- In a squalid hut in Zam Zam refugee camp, 16-year-old Salim Adam swats flies from the livid scar where a bullet tore through his leg. Two years ago, Mr. Adam was farming with his father when the Janjaweed, a Sudanese government-backed militia who have executed a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, surrounded his village, firing rifles. "They grabbed my father. They demanded money and, when we had none, they shot him here" he says, smacking his palm against his forehead. Mr. Adam fled, gunfire at his back. Somehow, he dragged himself to a donkey. He cannot remember how long he rode across the desert before reaching Zam Zam.

The bullet that shattered Salim Adam's leg and the gun that fired it were almost certainly manufactured in China. The militiaman who pulled the trigger was likely compensated with revenues from Chinese oil purchases, which fund a majority of Khartoum's military actions. And the reason no help has come to Darfur is, in large part, because China has blocked every attempt to deploy a United Nations peacekeeping force. Though estimates vary, most data suggest that the death toll in Darfur has reached around 450,000, and is still rising.

By the time the world awakened to the slaughter here, China was already funneling money into Khartoum. Beijing's investments in Sudan now total around $4 billion. With a 40% stake each in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co. and Petrodar, state-owned  China National Petroleum Corp. owns the largest shares of both of Sudan's national oil consortia. And in 2005, Beijing purchased more than half of Sudan's oil exports. China now relies on Khartoum for about one-tenth of its massive oil needs, placing Sudan just behind Saudi Arabia and Iran as China's largest energy supplier by volume.

It is an unholy alliance. The U.N. imposed an arms embargo when it became apparent that the Government of Sudan's military actions in Darfur were overwhelmingly directed against helpless civilians. And yet China continues to supply Khartoum with assault helicopters, armored vehicles and small arms. Last August, Beijing sold 212 military trucks to Khartoum. Chinese oil company airstrips in southern Sudan have been used by government forces to conduct bombing raids on villages and hospitals. A U.N. investigation conducted this year determined that the vast majority of weaponry used to attack civilians across Darfur is of Chinese origin.

Thanks to this relationship, Sudan has purchased the best protection in the world: a veto-wielding member on the U.N. Security Council willing to ensure that Khartoum's campaign of human destruction in Darfur can continue.

The U.N. measures that have been passed have been hopelessly enfeebled by Beijing. In July 2004, China watered down a bill that would have demanded that Khartoum prosecute militiamen accused of atrocities, removing language that threatened sanctions. They did so again in September 2004, when -- in a U.S.-sponsored resolution -- a commitment that the U.N. "will take" punitive action was replaced with an impotent "shall consider" wording. In April, when the Security Council considered targeted sanctions on Khartoum's leadership, China withdrew their strenuous veto threats in the face of mounting international pressure, but only after ensuring that the list was stripped of all high-level officials.

On May 16, the Security Council finally voted on a resolution that compelled Sudan to admit a U.N. peacekeeping assessment mission. China withdrew its veto threat only after the resolution had been gutted of key language that would have allowed some U.N. peacekeepers from a force already in southern Sudan to move to Darfur. And they did so with an explicit declaration from China's Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N., Zhang Yishan, that their vote "should not be construed as a precedent for the Security Council's future discussion or the adoption of new resolutions against Sudan."

That promise has given Khartoum virtual immunity from any repercussions as it proceeds with its genocidal ambitions in Darfur. China is underwriting the first genocide of the 21st Century, and using their political weight to ensure that it is not stopped. How can we accept that?

Last week, the United States' Congressional Commission on U.S.-China Relations convened hearings on China's role in the world. Among the testimony was a damning account from Sudan expert Eric Reeves. He said of China's support for Sudan: "There is in all of Africa no more destructive bilateral relationship." When it makes its annual policy recommendations later this year, the commission needs to urge the U.S. State Department to call China to task for its complicity in the slaughter in Darfur. Beijing, in turn, must use its tremendous leverage with Khartoum to help halt the killing. If China wants to be included in the ranks of powerful, responsible nations, it's time for it to start acting like one.

Mr. Farrow, currently a student at Yale Law School, recently took his second trip to Darfur as a Unicef spokesperson for youth.

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