Wednesday, April 2

The Olympics and Tibet (and Darfur)

The New York Times magazine had a piece this weekend by Ilan Greenberg on the campaign to use the Beijing Olympics to pressure China to pressure Sudan to change its behavior in Darfur. Greenberg gets to a crucial point in the closing paragraphs:

Dream for Darfur may, however, have to wrestle with the price of its success in leveraging China’s desire for a problem-free Olympics: other organizations want to share the stage, and the momentum of Tibetan activists could overwhelm the cause of Darfur
It would appear that this is already happening. Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman wrote earlier this week about protesters linking China's Tibet policy with the Olympics. No mention of the word 'Darfur.' Or, perhaps more tellingly, the cartoon above is from today's edition of the Nation, Kenya's most prominent newspaper. Kenya, which shares a border with Sudan and serves as a hub for international activity on Sudan, has a large stake in what happens there. Yet the cartoon is about Tibet, not Darfur.

The head of the Dream for Darfur campaign put an optimistic spin on this development:

Savitt maintains that “it’s actually great there are more voices in the chorus — it puts exponentially more pressure on China to do something.” In her view, this will not necessarily detract from the Darfur cause. “If there are going to be immediate changes having to do with the Olympics,” she says, “I think it’s going to be with external issues — it’s more of a baby step. It’s one reason Darfur has gained so much traction.”

This sounds rather like wishful thinking. Despite some shifts in China's attitude on Darfur, it always seemed unlikely to me that this sort of campaign would influence China to pursue any fundamental changes in its relations with Sudan. But now Darfur looks to be more of an afterthought, Olympics-wise, both for China and the international community. And with the focus on Tibet, China might well think it would gain less now from making concessions on Darfur than it did before.

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