China backs down on aid-for-oil in Sudan?

The Economist reports that as the crisis in western Sudan continues to worsen, the UN finally might actually be asked to engage.

SINCE the tragedy in Darfur, Sudan’s western region, began three years ago, at least 200,000 people—some say more than 300,000—have died; another 2m, in a population of 6m, have been displaced, many of them fleeing across the border into Chad; […] Now, belatedly, the UN is likely, as a last resort, to send blue helmets to Darfur. The United States, which two years ago accused the Sudanese government of genocide, is driving the plan, and opposition to it is fading. The Sudanese government in Khartoum, which has armed and encouraged the mounted Arab militias, or janjaweed, responsible for most of the killing, has stopped denouncing the UN intervention idea out of hand. The AU, whose peacekeepers have proved sadly unable to stop the janjaweed’s campaign of rape, murder and pillage, has acknowledged that it needs the UN’s help. And even China, which had opposed any UN intervention for fear of annoying Sudan’s murderous government, from which it buys vast dollops of oil, is now unlikely to object.

Most of the oil companies have withdrawn from the Sudan already, while China has taken the opportunity to expand control of the oil companies and establish itself as the Sudan’s largest trading partner. And yet, as the article points out, the UN presence might actually be a NATO mission in conjunction with the African Union.

It’s not clear if this supports the Whitehouse strategy or is happening in spite of it, since Bush quietly lobbied to neuter the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in Congress (apparently as the Sudanese government was seen as an ally in the war on terror).

China had claimed to be innocently perfoming aid-for-oil through “non-interference in domestic affairs”, but in reality they armed the Islamic government in Khartoum, undoubtedly leading directly to the genocide in Darfur through air/ground superiority. On the other hand they also provided a fair number of soldiers to the UN for other conflict areas in Africa. In any case, it is clear that the US again may be perceived to be weakening in influence as China’s participation was needed in order for the UN to be an effective force in the region.

One could almost argue that China took a page out of the Cold War playbook and knowingly destabilized the region in order to facilitate investment and then only just approved the use of NATO forces to secure access to resources in northern Africa, under the guise of humanitarian assistance…

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