China: Spielberg, the Olympics, and oil

Global Voices Olympics Chinese bloggers shocked world media and those calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics this week with blog posts revealing a wide variety of Chinese opinions both independent from and more nuanced than that of the Chinese government on its relationship with Sudanese counterparts. Further surprise came when those posts were translated into English:

But the country's citizens feel no shame, and they will not engage in self-examination; rather, this affair will launch a patriotic movement to condemn Spielberg while proudly claiming that the Beijing Olympics will go on just the same with or without him. They'll even complain about the foreign ministry's few words on the subject—they're only increasing his visibility! Why should our grand nation of China care one whit for the comings and goings of a lowly artist? Scram, spiel-bork.

A small addition to the excellent round-ups linked to above is a researched post from the highly-read independent blogger He Caitou on February 16, ‘Spielberg, the Olympics, and oil‘, in which he takes it upon himself to explain the basics of the situation to his readers, something the Chinese government, Chinese media, Steven Spielberg and the Save Darfur Coalition have apparently all been unable to do:




Uncle Spielberg announced he would no longer be participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs went out of its way to respond, all really odd. The reason Uncle Spielberg gave was something about “Darfur”, which doesn't really sound familiar, and definitely doesn't explain anything. A world-famous director gets up at the last minute and runs off from the world's most populous country just as it's about to host the Olympics, and because of some place in Africa? That's some “globalization” for you.

So what's up with Darfur? What does it have to do with China? Or with the 2008 Olympics? The media haven't been clear on the what and why, they don't talk about this issue. They might think it wise not to, or inconvenient, but I think I at least might as well. Anyway, I've got nothing better to do this weekend, so I'll try and tell the story so you better listen up.

Back to Africa, we all know where Africa is. And everyone knows that the north part is one long stretch of yellow sand. The Chinese Taiwan writer San Mao once worked, studied and lived there. The south part isn't bad either, like South Africa, which as we've learned from TV news, has no camels. A lot of people insist that those who have watched Animal World will have noticed that Africa also has veldt, forest and animals who frolic and copulate as Teacher Zhao Zhongxiang chases them with his booming voice. When Chinese people say the word “African”, they naturally think of their black brothers with faces like ebony and curly hair. Knowing that much is a good start, but it's not all there is.



Fans of Lawrence of Arabia ought to remember that Africa also has white-skinned people. The north of Africa is ruled by arabs, who ride camels and horses, live in tents, and are nomads. In the south, that's black people's land, where they live off the land, farming arable land. Sudan is a country situated in Africa, and Darfur is a place in Sudan. In the north are arab nomads, and in the south are African black farmers. Used to be that everyone just kept to themselves; you keep your sand and I'll keep my mud.

But then, starting in the 1980s, global warming began. With the weather, the peaceful co-existence situation also began to change. The result of global warming was increased drought in Darfur, and the nomad arabs were the first to feel the impact. Their herds need pasture, and what the camels and sheep saw, was farmland covered in feed. This is what destroyed the friendly relationship between the African blacks and the arabs. Arabs were not able to change their nomadic lifestyles, and the historically farming African blacks were absolutely not going to let anyone take away from their farmland. In 1987, the parched thirsty arabs issued a declaration, that arabs were racially superior. Then they built up an army, and began pillaging land from the blacks. Conflict fully erupted, and only two years later was a peace agreement signed, the price of which had been 3,000 lives and hundreds of destroyed villages. [1]




As the people in the country were fighting each other, what did the Sudanese government then do? The Sudanese government leaned over to its arab brothers: ‘why don't you give us some weapons and ammo and whatnot, give us a hand in this thing.’ The international community's view on Sudan's internal strife was: ethnic conflict, opposition between the two races, black and arab. But, some academics pointed out, the Darfur conflict is more of a conflict between haves (farmers with land) and have-nots (herders with none), than it is a clash between races. One obvious case in point to this was Sudan's uprising in 2003, where both sides gathered with their own brothers under slogans of race. But, those arabs with land of their own did not standing with the government in this. So, saying Sudan was in a ethnic conflict still has to end with a question mark.

Throughout the 1990s, whether you say it was an ethnic conflict or a battle over land resources between herders and farmers, both sides just kept on going at each other, and have been going for nearly twenty years now. Thunder boomed across the land in 2005 when oil was discovered in Darfur's southern region. And large reserves; after extraction got underway, 200,000 barrels a day by some estimates. The 20 years prior to this had absolutely nothing to do with China, but from that point on, the words Sudan and Darfur got stuck right next to China.

Since 1949, China and Africa had established positive relations. What the deal is now, I don't know. But at the time, the African brothers were definitely not treated as outsiders. You help get us into the United Nations, and we'll help you with infrastructure. China had large numbers of cooperative projects in Africa, and relations with most African countries were pretty good. There was no thought of benefits or advantages to this at the time; The engineering teams who went to aid in construction, now that was menial work, trying to do good. Medical teams went to provide health services, and saved countless lives. Sudan was one of China's African brothers, and now that oil has been discovered, the sense of brotherhood towards Africa that the old generation of proletarian revolutionaries carry is finally being realized.





China is Sudan's largest trade partner, and Sudan's main export to China is oil. In 2007, China's oil investments in Sudan reached 150 billion USD. China-Sudan oil cooperation, which began in 1997, has in less than ten years come to include crude oil exploration and development, shipping oil pipelines, oil refining, petrochemicals, and all the other oil industry system integration in between. The Sudan oil cooperation project is PetroChina's largest overseas cooperation project, and involves projects in Sudan Blocks 1/2/3/4/6/7, Khartoum refineries and polypropylene plants. [2]

Quite something, eh? America is friends with several big oil countries: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria (Iraq actually wasn't much into oil, but then Saddam was hung, and now it is. Iran doesn't either. Like that'll last long.), which control the world's oil production business. But, China has suddenly struck oil in Sudan, 200,000 barrels a day, 20% of what Nigeria produces, in its own backyard, and this is somehow outrageous? [3]

By chance, there's the 2003 Darfur uprising mentioned above. How did that happen? Darfur's black brothers organized themselves in 2003, and formed the “Sudanese Liberation Army”, among other armed anti-government forces, striving for self-governance. Then the arabs organized the Janjawid militia and challenged the SLA. Resulting in 10,000 deaths and a million refugees. As with in 1987, the Sudanese government supported the arab Janjawid, supplying weapons and ammunition. Little George Bush shrewdly grasped onto this, declaring the Sudanese government wholly responsible for the Darfur Crisis. What's more, America and its allies one-by-one spoke out: ‘Hey, China, yeah you! Your little brother's gone and made such a mess, why aren't you saying anything?’ Seeing China unresponsive, and continuing to ship oil, everybody started screaming at once: ‘everyone come look! The little black people are being killed, and it's all because China secretly supports the Sudanese government!’

And that's how, over the past few years, the connection between China, Sudan and Darfur couldn't be cut, with inconsistent reasoning and widespread criticism.



The problem, looking at this from China's point of view, is ‘do we denounce the Sudanese government?’ Well, does China still want the oil? China is a country which has already transitioned to full reliance on oil imports, and where does the gasoline and diesel we burn up every year come from—Daqing, or Karamay? Of course it's a problem that the blacks in Darfur are being attacked, being massacred. Well, the gas tanks of the cars and wallets of car owners on China's roads are problems as well. With any humanitarian spirit, the Sudanese government should be denounced. But, once the denunciation is done, what are we gonna burn then? Denouncing the Sudanese government, supporting the people of Darfur, I imagine everybody would raise their hand for both. But, to say that for the people of Darfur, we would rather go without gasoline, or endure much higher fuel prices and overall hikes in commodity prices, would anybody still raise their hand for that? When it involves vital interests, we might see things differently as we consider the problem. Would you choose three years of a lagging economy if it meant not another person in Darfur would have to die?

I'm not sure what the answer to this question is. There's lots of smart people out there on the internet, and a lot of them own cars, so I'd like to hear what everybody thinks.



Back to Uncle Spielberg. Uncle Spielberg is Jewish, and he filmed the famous “Schindler's List“. Now, Uncle Spielberg has come to China to assist in planning the Olympic Games, and somebody has asked him: ‘so are you supporting the Sudanese government now? Nazis killed you jews and you made a movie out of it, but when the Sudanese government exterminates the little black people, you go and help the Sudanese government's friends? Is it that only you jews are people, but blacks aren't people?’ Uncle Spielberg was unable to answer, and so he announced his withdrawal. Only, Uncle Spielberg isn't the first famous American to face these kinds of questions. Last year, Warren Buffet was forced to sell his stock in Sinopec, for similar reasons. They are still stuck in America, after all, and must take that into consideration. Though, with one stock wizard gone now and one celebrity director, players in society though they are, it's still nowhere near like during the Cold War when Western countries joined hands and refused to take part in the Olympic Games hosted by the Soviet Union; with that in mind, China seems lucky.

Finally, for those car owners with guilty consciences, I just want to say two things. America is the symbol of freedom and democracy, but this clause needs a modifier: domestically. But when it comes to relations with other countries, there just doesn't seem to be that same dear freedom and sweet democracy. To this day, there isn't anything that has more bearing on international relations than ‘the real world’, and Americans admit it straight up: ‘to protect American interests to the greatest extent.’ So then, aside from American interests, there's still every country in the world's interests, or else there would always be conflicts, and people dying for this free and democratic America. America today is caring over Darfur. Well, what about the America during the Rwanda massacre? Or Somalia, where after a few American soldiers died, it evacuated, and turned the place over to God. And Iraq? How many times more American soldiers have died in Iraq than in Somalia? So why haven't the Americans evacuated? God sure isn't fair, failing to bless the people of Rwanda, Somalia and Korea with oil, or else they've have gotten help from the American army, and not just have been forgotten about, left to fend for themselves.




Now, America says we're wrong for supporting the Sudanese government. Well, who supported the Saddam government in slaughtering Kurds? Who supported the Suharto government in oppressing Indonesia? During the May 18 incident in Korea, Korean university students and city residents demanded freedom and democracy, and who was it who supported the military government in cruelly stamping that out? Since we're on the topic, both Iraq and Indonesia are oil producers. The truth of the world is:

1. The American people enjoy a life of ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ this is true.
2. The price of this kind of life is all efforts necessary to maintain American interests, including letting the silly House of Saud rule over that prosperous nation, and keeping despots like Suharto, Noriega and Saddam who serve America in place, this is also true.
3. When American interests no longer exist, any million people who die somewhere that isn't America, might as well have never existed. This is still true.

We live in a world that's just as cruel now as it was 5,000 years ago. In this world it seems numbers of nuclear warheads and supply and demand determine rank between nations. How America lets Americans live such wonderful lives is an example set for all countries to follow, but, this kind of domestic policy isn't allowed to extend to international relations. If you honestly feel so guilty about the blacks of Darfur, that's commendable, but what's even more commendable is if you were to give up your own cars, and started riding bicycles. If you admit that you're selfish, and that cheap gas depends on the lives of a group of people tens of thousands of miles away, well then there's no need at all to feel ashamed. Because, that's just how pitiless the world is, and there's no obligation to put yourself in such a difficult situation. Spielberg, in contrast, only made one of the easiest choices there is.


[1] “The root causes of the Darfur problem”
[2] “How did the Darfur Crisis come to be?”
[3] “Darfur: My name is oil”


  • Let’s clarify this, it is not America that is pressuring Spielberg it is “Americans”. Americans who have individually been protesting Darfur whike participating in activism regarding the situation their for some time on an individual level.

    Americans who despise much of what their government has done over the last years, but whose government as yet has not trampled to a large extent on their human rights.

    I have no doubt that if we needed Darfur’s oil as badly as China needs it we too might be ignoring a Genocide and possibly arming those who are murdering the citizens of Darfur.

    Spielberg made the only choice possible, the right choice.

  • […] 作者:和菜头 翻译:冯三七 来源:全球之声在线 […]

  • I understand why the Chinese bloggers would feel angered how the Beijing Olympics is being brought into the Darfur situation. China did not cause the Darfur conflict but they have an important role in helping the movement towards peace. The UN and many countries have been trying to help the Sudanese government with Darfur but it seems that the Sudanese government does not want peace to occur. China is the only voice Sudan will really listen because China is an important economic partner. I don’t believe people should target the Olympics as the “genoicde olympics” because that defeats the whole purpose of the Olympics. But I believe the Chinese people really do not know the extent of the disaster and deaths in Darfur.

  • […] Feng37 Original Chinese source: Original English source: Source of this article:  […]

  • chinese buddhist

    Thanks for He Caitou’s excellent analysis.

  • francis

    Interesting article, but I wondered how long it would take before the moral equivalence with the US would be brought onto what was already a weak (although entertaining) line of argument. Like the previous reply said, Spielberg is American, not America. Arguing that no humanitarian crisis should be addressed until all humanitarian crises are addressed is the argument of the naive.

  • […] China: Spielberg, the Olympics, and oil […]

  • Thanks for a wise comment Christina.

  • Jay

    Most Chinese citizens don’t know what is behind the whole Spielberg, Darfur Olympics matter because, unlike in the US, they don’t have access to all sides f the story. They only get the read their governments’ official line on news. In many cases the spin the Chinese gov’t gives the news is not factual nor comprehensive. Chinese don’t have the ability to organize their own humanitarian movement – even if they knew the real truth.

  • Charles Liu

    Does anyone still remember the root cause of Darfur? There are plenty of blame to go around, starting with CIA’s support of the SPLA and John Garang 10 years ago – promptly after oil was discovered in Sudan:

    After so many years of inaction and indifference by the West, we suddenly want to blame Darfur on China?

    At any rate the original Darfur mess we started has since been replaced with inter-tribal conflict and herdsmen fighting for territory. Neither Khartoum nor Beijing has much influence over that.

    China is simply a scapegoat. And Mia Farrow is out of her mind.

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