Loading icon

Land of the Hungry Dragon

Off Campus | October 26, 2009

China’s economy has grown to unbelievable levels. Their output figures, even if they are overestimating the truth, are staggering. It seems all but inevitable that China will take a global role in world politics for years to come.

With its tight leash on information and the press, the Chinese Communist Party paints the picture of glorified growth and national pride that it wants the world to see. However, the truth is that an overheating Chinese economy needs resources to feed its industrial strength- for this and more it has turned to Sudan, one of the most volatile regions of the globe. In doing so, China has left Sudan country in a political, economic and social mess. This begs the question: when is the cost of economic progress too high?

It seems like the perfect match. China, an international political superpower, holds a dominant presence in the UN. The Sudanese government, besieged by the West, could desperately use an ally. China needs to fuel its industrial growth; Sudan has plenty of resources to bring to the table. China is Sudan’s leading trading partner and has developed large portions of the country’s infrastructure as well as agriculture, mining and education. What underscores this economically sound trade relationship is the heavily distorted distribution of Sudanese wealth. The profits go inevitably to the elite, who spend a large majority of it on weapons, rather than feeding a starving population.

The global consequences of the Sino-Sudanese relationship only begin there. The primary vendor of arms to the brutal Sudanese government is China, whose blatant disregard for UN trade embargos could only be excused of the UN’s most intimidating member. Beginning with Sudanese oil, the relationship ends with this final deadly exchange.

Before we decry Chinese greed as the answer to the conflict and propose a diplomatic solution, we need to consider the obstacles. A cutoff in relations between the two countries would severely wound the economies of both. China relies on a steady flow of inputs at a reasonable price to get its output while the Sudanese government relies on the Chinese for economic as well as military power. China’s investment has become irrevocable: there’s no pulling out now. China needs the government currently in place in Khartoum to maintain its relationship, whereas any practical action taken to resolve the genocide at this point would have to involve removing President al-Bashir. The Chinese have erected their own wall around the Sudanese; they regard the acquisition of resources such as oil and steel to be an integral matter of national security. With such a priority on resources, China feels entitled to do everything it needs to in maintaining trade relationship with Sudan as well as its other partners around the developing world.

Our tireless campaigns for Darfur non-profit work simply aren’t as effective as they should be. The cold reason is that trade relations between a country as wealthy as China and as vulnerable as Sudan means that billions upon billions of dollars go to the government rather than the people. Additionally, the cycle is self-perpetuating; as time goes on, China’s investment in the country’s government only grows deeper. Can we afford to cut off the driver of international economic growth from its resources? At the same time, the atrocities of the Sudanese government can not be allowed to continue unpunished. The middle ground, clouded by a web of political ties, eludes us on the diplomatic playing field.

What we can do is focus on the people that can be saved. A tragic portion of the new generation will grow up without parents or in refugee camps far away from home. Rebuilding schools, infrastructure and homes that have been destroyed outside the reach of the Janjaweed will secure this generation a better future than that which life in a crowded refugee camp or on the run has to offer. Recently, Gabriel Bol Deng visited Tufts to speak on behalf of his village, Ariang, which had been devastated years ago by Sudanese government forces. Years after escaping to the States, Gabriel is now on a wide campaign to raise money for a school in his village. He understands the power of education especially for displaced children; his desire for an education and a future is what brought him to an American university.

With the tangled web of power politics blocking a solid diplomatic approach to Sudan, private initiatives like Gabriel’s are the best chance that Sudan has for change. While diplomatic maneuvering with the Chinese may lead them to earmark additional funds to rebuilding Sudanese infrastructure, it is private initiative that we have seen come through for a country in need. We owe it to the people of Sudan not to let roadblocks to a comprehensive diplomatic approach discourage the outpouring of private philanthropic efforts trying to protect a new Sudanese generation.