China and the Conflict in Darfur

China’s policy on Darfur, which is based on its economic and political interests in Sudan and the wider region, requires some contextual background. Darfur, together with the rest of Sudan’s geographical periphery, has continually been marginalized politically and economically. Although there are many reasons, including ethnic issues, for the outbreak in 2003 of conflict in Darfur, inattention to the region by the central government lies at the core of the problem. Even Sudan’s ambassador to China, Mirghani Mohamed Salih, agreed, “The root cause of the problem in Darfur is the lack of development, as in other parts of Sudan.” What Salih failed to add is that there has been substantial development in the greater Khartoum area and, for a distance of about 50 miles, along the Nile north and south of the capital.

The mishandling of a severe famine in that began in 1984 Darfur by the national government in Khartoum underscored the marginalization of the region and set the stage for rebellion. Instead of focusing on development, too much attention has been directed to so-called differences between the “African” and “Arab” inhabitants of Darfur. While they are all African, there are important distinctions between semi-nomadic pastoralists and settled agriculturalists. Religion was not one of the reasons behind the conflict—all the combatants and aggrieved are Sunni Muslim, and no party to the conflict has cited religion as a cause.

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