China and Genocide in Darfur vs. America in Iraq

An interesting discussion has developed on the listserve Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) run by Kirk Denton.  Last week I posted an article from the Village Voice about the attempt by certain influential Hollywood types and others in America to label Beijing 2008 Olympics the "Genocide Olympics".  Another list member named Henri Day countered that the "g" word is often used for dubious political purposes, and noted that America's war against Saddam Hussein's regime and subsequent occupation of Iraq has also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.  Why should the events in Darfur be qualitatively different, was the question raised.  He also pointed out that only the US government has officially declared the events in Darfur to be an act of "genocide" (I cannot confirm or deny this--others might know better). 


Henri Day has been one of the most active posters on MCLC, continually challenging us to adopt critical viewpoints of the American mass media coverage of a wide range of world affairs.  I certainly appreciate his contributions to discussions we've had on MCLC over the past three years. 

I just found out that Henri has his own blog, and I have added a link to it from Shanghaijournal.  From his blog, it is apparent that Henri has, shall we say, a certain pre-occupation with American power abroad.  His most recent entry cites Chalmers Johnson's latest book on American imperialism, Ending the Empire in which Dr. Johnson argues that America had best withdraw its military presence in the rest of the world lest it succumb to the fate that befell the Roman empire.

I don't know if Dr. Johnson teaches world history--he strikes me as more of a 20th-century and contemporary Asia specialist--but his understanding of the Roman empire seems a bit flawed to me.  The Roman empire didn't collapse in the 300s, it merely shifted its location to the more impregnable city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) where it survived under the guise of Byzantium for another thousand years or so, until the city was finally sacked and conquered by the Ottomans in 1453.  In other words, the Roman empire lasted for well over a millennium.  Meanwhile it nurtured one of the most powerful and influential world religions, Christianity.

I respect the critical scholarship of Chalmers Johnson.  His book _Blowback_ contains many powerful insights into the recent history of East Asia and the post-WWI Cold War.  Johnson argues that the East Asian nations of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan (sorry folks, but in my humble opinion, Taiwan is a de facto nation, despite the official status as a "renegade province" of China) were in effect "satellite states" set up by the US to project its power and create a buffer zone against the spread of Communism, in the same way that the East European states occupied by the Soviet Union were buffer states against the US-Western European  alliance.

This is all well and good, and Johnson joins many contemporary scholars in claiming that America is an empire with strong parallels to ancient Rome, including my UNSW colleague Ian Tyrrell, a distinguished scholar of American and transnational history.

However, a danger lies in taking these notions too far.  There seems to be a marked tendency by radical scholars to blame all the world's woes on the hegemonic influence of America abroad.   Recent events notwithstanding, I am skeptical of the notion that if America were to withdraw its military, political, and economic tentacles, the world would be a better place.  Rather, it is the conditions of industrial capitalism and the creation in modern times of a hegemonic military-industrial complex that are to blame.  The endless arms race, along with the race to 'develop' by commanding and consuming the world's natural reserves, particularly its hydrocarbon-based energy supply, are behind the major conflicts of the past century and a half.  America happens to be the current leader of this race, and out-consumes all other nations, but China is now catching up fast.

Which brings me back to the issue of Darfur.  A cynical, and admittedly simplistic view would argue that the genocidal events in Darfur, while not directly caused by the major powers, are certainly aided and abetted by them. 

The situation in Darfur is highly complex and is not easily encapsulated into a brief summary, nor are its historical or contemporary connections with the major world powers of Britain, Russia, China, and the United States.  I have included in my file storage space a few articles by leading scholars of Darfur and of genocide studies, including Alex de Waal, one of the leading specialists on Darfur, who have written more in-depth assessments of the situation.  Interestingly, China is mentioned very little in these accounts.

After doing some research on the Net, I've come to the conclusion that very little has been written about China's connection to the Sudan and to Darfur, other than the widely known fact that the government of the PRC has made deals with the Sudanese government in return for oil supplies.  These deals involve arms (also true in the case of Russia, which has been supplying arms to the government of Sudan).  Here my knowledge of the situation reaches its limits.  In the spirit of qingjiao qingjiao, I'd appreciate any further information that others might supply. 

There seems to be a general consensus among these experts that Darfur does indeed formally qualify as "genocide".  Dirk Moses is an expert on genocide studies who teaches at Sydney University. When I asked him about this, he replied "I think genocide is an accurate descriptor, despite the US use of the term."  Dirk has written an excellent summary of the issue of what constitutes genocide and how states can act to prevent genocide, which I've also included in my storage files.

Here's a quote from an article on genocide in Darfur on the involvement of China, Russia, and the USA. 

John Hagan, Wenona Rymond-Richmond, Patricia Parker, "The Criminology of Genocide:  The Death and Rape of Darfur," _Criminology_ Aug 2005; 43; 3; Academic Research Library pg. 525

"The power politics of Darfur are further complicated by large-scale investments of China in the Sudanese oil industry, by the sale of Russian military hardware to the Sudanese government, and by the often opposing efforts of American evangelical Chrisitians to support and protect Africans with whom they are doing missionary work in southern Sudan...In the power politics of the United Nations, the oil interests of China and the arms industry interests of Russia constrain and control use of international criminal law as a response to Darfurian death and destruction."

I do not think that these scholars would qualify America's occupation of Iraq as "genocidal."  However, being of open mind I would be happy to see any arguments to the contrary.