The crisis in Darfur is humanitarian in nature, and ought to be treated as such. The root cause of the problem there is poverty, and the world should join hands to alleviate it. China is well aware of its responsibility in the international arena and has played a key role in persuading Sudan to be more flexible on former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan's peace plan. It will continue to do whatever it can to restore peace and stability in Darfur, and strive for its development.
On its part, the international community should realize it cannot get anywhere by trying to dictate terms to Sudan. In fact, it's high time, the world stopped looking at Sudan with tinted glasses and blaming it for everything that has been happening in the region.
Not surprisingly, though, all the parties involved in Darfur share the same goal: helping people out of poverty and restoring peace and stability, but their ways of achieving it is different. So let us try to restore peace and happiness among the people of Darfur in a way that is acceptable to all and harms none.
This summarizes Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun's observation on the Darfur crisis and China's role in bringing an end to the suffering of the people there.
Zhai had a first-hand experience of the situation in Darfur during his four-day official visit to Sudan that ended recently. In Darfur, he inspected the refugee camps and talked to the inmates. He met with regional officials, too. During his visit to Al-Fashir, he held a meeting with North Darfur Governor Osman Mohammed Yousef Kibir, and in Nyala he met with South Darfur Governor Al-Haj Ata al-Manan.
Talking to reporters in Beijing on his return yesterday, Zhai said: "Annan's peace plan is practical, close to the demands of the Sudanese government and well accepted by the international community." The Annan Plan aims to deploy a combination of African Union and UN peacekeeping force in the Darfur region to restore peace and stability and end the humanitarian crisis.
The Sudanese government has accepted the plan in principle but wants further talks to remove the differences that still remain. Among its important demands is placing international troops in Darfur under the command of an officer from an African country.
The international community and the Sudanese government are now discussing the number of troops actually needed for the peacekeeping mission. Sudan says their number cannot be decided till the commander of the international troops surveys the region carefully and suggests one.
Sudan's reservation on the peace plan is quite understandable, said Zhai, because it's afraid that if more troops than are actually needed move in, the situation in a country plagued by conflicts could worsen.
The crisis can be resolved permanently only through a three-way approach: political consultation, especially among Sudan, the African Union and the UN; economic aid; and peacekeeping, Zhai said.
"I have understood from my meetings with Sudanese leaders that they want to talk to the international community to find a political solution to the Darfur problem But they want the talks to be held on an equal footing." They have a point there, he said, because "you cannot just send a letter to the Sudanese government and expect a positive response".
Demarcating no-fly zones over the region and imposing sanctions on Sudan is not going to help either. Besides, China is vehemently opposed to such practices because they take us nowhere they will only make people poorer and more helpless. "Such moves will create more troubles in an already troubled area."
The best option thus is to work on the Annan Plan. "If it is implemented and the Sudanese government asks China to contribute some peacekeeping troops, we will definitely consider it seriously," Zhai said. China already has more than 1,000 peacekeepers in southern Sudan.
But for peace and stability to be restored permanently in Darfur, poverty has to be alleviated, he said, because that's the origin of the humanitarian crisis. North Darfur, for instance, only has a 38-km asphalt road.
In some remote areas, people's lives are no better than those living in the refugee camps. "That's why many choose to stay in the refugee camps rather than return home because in the camps they at least don't have to worry about food and safety."
If the living condition of the Sudanese people doesn't improve, they will keep on fighting for the limited natural resources, aggravating the situation.
China, he said, has donated 80 million yuan (US$10.3 million) to Sudan. But donation alone is not the solution, and Beijing knows that. Hence, it is encouraging more Chinese enterprises to invest in Sudan, especially in its remote areas where development is an urgent need. The international community, too, should do the same, he said.
But can China's role in Sudan damage its reputation and lead to a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games by some countries?, asked a reporter. Zhai said such remarks reflected ignorance.
"Those who link the Olympics to Darfur are either ignorant or have mala fide intentions Such an idea will never sell. Nor will it be able to stop China from staging a successful Olympic Games next year."
Conflicts among the different ethnic groups of Sudan are almost a century old, and began when the country was still under the United Kingdom's rule. "They had never ceased and only got worse during recent years."
"The friendship between the two countries began long ago and has nothing to do with Darfur." Sudan is a developing country, and as its friend, China will continue playing a constructive role in Darfur.
(China Daily April 12, 2007)