China has been denounced for not using its economic leverage to apply more pressure on the Sudanese government for peace in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million are homeless. Activists have attempted to shame China by saying its inaction makes it unworthy as host of the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics.
"The heart of the problems in Darfur is lack of development ... Desertification has spread quickly and this makes the people in the area fight over the limited resources, leading to conflict and bloodshed," Liu Guijin, China's special envoy to the region, said in a question-and-answer interview posted on government Web site http://www.china.com.cn.
By ANITA CHANG, Associated Press Writer
"People shouldn't just pay attention to the political process and peacekeeping, but also the development and reconstruction of the area," Liu said. "Otherwise, once the peacekeepers pull out and the political treaties are signed, the Darfur region will continue to be poor and people will still fight for resources."
Liu repeated previous statements from Beijing officials that groups should not try to "politicize" the Olympics, which China wants to use to show that it is ready to join the ranks of the world's top countries.
Energy-hungry China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil output and has refineries, a pipeline and joint exploration projects in the east African country. Beijing also sells weapons to the Khartoum regime, which is accused of unleashing janjaweed militias on ethnic African rebels.
Liu denied that Beijing was complicit in allowing atrocities that have included razed villages and rapes.
"China's government has never supported a massacre of Sudanese citizens by their government. Of course, we acknowledge that because of conflict and war and because of reasons related to both the government and rebels, there has been unnecessary deaths and a humanitarian crisis," he said.
The United Nations and African Union have struggled to establish an effective peacekeeping mission in Darfur, with Khartoum being blamed for resisting a force that is not predominantly African.
Liu, a longtime diplomat, said he was taken aback by the grinding poverty in the region on his first visit as special envoy in May 2007. His group arrived in a sandstorm and conditions in major Darfur cities were worse than those in the Chinese countryside in the 1960s or 1970s, he said.
"Even though I had been working in Africa for many years, I had rarely seen such tough environmental conditions like those in Darfur," he said.