Jan 31 2007 commentary - The Chinese People's Republic of Africa
by Alexander Gabuyev, - Kommersant Moscow. Excerpt:
By far the most important part of the trip will be the Chinese leader's visit to Sudan, where he will arrive on Friday. 'This visit will be the culmination of our relations with a friendly China,' said Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Sunday. This leg of the trip has also attracted significant attention from the international community, since many Western leaders are appalled at the very idea of cultivating a relationship with the regime that has been carrying on a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the local population in the oil-rich Darfur region. On the other hand, many hope that Beijing will succeed in convincing Khartoum to allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur.
Hu Jintao also appears to have come up with a original solution to the problem of Darfur. The Chinese deputy foreign affairs minister, who has a reputation as an excellent negotiator on delicate matters, visited Khartoum not long before Mr. Hu set off on his visit to Africa. Upon returning to Beijing, he confidently stated that "the Chairman's visit will undoubtedly bring peace and stability to Darfur." "China and Sudan are currently working on together on many questions, including military cooperation, and we have nothing to hide," he added pointedly.
Many experts believe that Hu Jintao will suggest to Khartoum that it permit a contingent of primarily Chinese UN peacekeepers to be deployed in Darfur. Around 150 Chinese military engineers are already in Sudan, but Beijing could still send a full detachment of troops to the country. Omar al-Bashir is not likely to object too strongly, since most of the petrodollars flowing into Khartoum come from multibillion-dollar contracts with the Chinese state-run oil companies CNPC and Sinopec. The moment is also politically ripe for such a proposal: on Monday, it was announced that the Darfur problem will cost Sudan the chairmanship of the African Union in 2007. Accepting a proposal from the Chinese concerning peacekeepers in the region would give Mr. al-Bashir an opportunity to portray himself in a better light.
Let's hope China can turn the situation around. Wish I had time today to search archives here for a news report quoting the late John Garang as saying he could not agree to Chinese peacekeepers because China is seen as onside with Khartoum.