Written by Tang Buxi, May 2nd, 2008
The argument, as many have undoubtedly heard, is that China is essentially bank-rolling “genocide in Darfur” (see: American Jewish Groups Call For Olympics Boycott) . The term “genocide” itself is probably misused in this context, and it minimizes the true scale of the Nazi Germany Holocaust. There is undoubtedly a devastating civil war in Darfur, embroiling hundreds of thousands of civilians in tremendous misery. But it remains a very complicated issue, with numerous rebel movements (and not only the government) trying to disrupt the peace process by attacking peacekeepers.
I believe as Chinese, we understand how dangerous self-righteous foreign armies can be. We’ve been at the pointy-end time and time again of various campaigns that resonated in foreign capitals, but translated to immense suffering for us “natives”. It’s simply not easy for analysts sitting in foreign cities to properly understand the full complexity of any conflict, and if they’re wrong, they can always return to their ivory tower. At the very least, we should leave it to the regional neighbors to figure out a solution. Fortunately, a negotiated approach with the African Union shows signs of breaking through.
So, what is it that Darfur activists are specifically demanding from China? As you dig deeper past the rhetoric, you will find that China’s primary crime lies in buying oil from the Sudanese government. They’re implicitly demanding that China stops purchasing Sudanese oil, in hopes of pushing Sudan into a political path it’s not ready to take. Let’s ignore the question of whether this sort of activism (in the face of actual negotiated progress) is morally right; let’s just talk about whether China is the appropriate target for this campaign.
China, just like any other nation, needs oil to survive; we need fuel for power generators and vehicles. If China were to go elsewhere to purchase oil, the Chinese would have to pay a greater premium. In essence, the Darfur campaign is demanding that all average Chinese pay a heavy tax out of their pockets, to support their questionable political goals. Keep in mind that China is a developing nation, where the average per capita GDP is $2000/year, and average per capita WEALTH is barely over $10,000.
Does forcing the cost of this campaign onto the impoverished Chinese make sense to anyone? How much has Mia Farrow, or the American Jewish community at large donated to the Darfur cause in actual cash money? I won’t demand too much… but are they willing to at least drop their net wealth down to the per capita Chinese level of $10,000? When will Mia Farrow, and the leaders of the American Jewish community, pull out their checkbooks and pledge to suffer as much as the average Chinese would from this campaign? Is doing anything less than this nothing but high hypocrisy?
Next time you see a Darfur activist calling these the “Genocide Olympics”, remember to ask them: what is your family’s accumulated net worth? Have you donated the amount above $10,000 towards helping refugees in Darfur?
I’d even propose another solution. Many of these Darfur activists also have tremendous political influence in Washington DC. I propose that they lobby the United States government for an exchange of oil interests. China will trade away all rights over Sudanese oil, for control of American-owned oil wells in Saudi Arabia (a country which apparently doesn’t offend the human rights activist community). It would be a double-win: the United States can exert direct political pressure on the Sudanese government, while China wouldn’t be forced to sacrifice the livelihood of average Chinese earning less than $200 per month.
Dream for Darfur has also called on China to play the role of international police alongside the United States, by actually deploying military forces (helicopters) in Darfur. China has previously deployed engineering brigades and UN peacekeepers in foreign countries (Haiti and Chad), but demanding specific hardware from a developing nation seems rather bizarre. I for one think one international policeman is *more* than what this world can handle… but if they really insist on more military hardware in Darfur, I suggest they campaign at the Pentagon. I hear the Pentagon has plenty of practice at this stuff.
Let’s all agree that the events in Darfur represent a humanitarian disaster that the world should be united in helping. But let’s leave the casting of stones to those better morally equipped.