China Bars Olympian and Darfur Activist from Attending Summer Games

By Elizabeth Palmberg 8-08-2008

Looks like Joey Cheek -- a winter Olympics medalist who co-founded the organization Team Darfur to protest the genocide incited by the regime in Khartoum -- will not be going to Beijing in support of the Team Darfur athletes about to compete in the Olympics. China, which buys Sudan's oil and often runs interference for the Khartoum regime in the U.N. Security Council, has revoked Cheek's visa and told him to stay out.

But, to paraphrase Matthew 15, it's not what goes into your body politic that gets you in trouble. It's the things that come out, like wickedness, murder, and lies. And China is not doing so well in those departments: A study released this week details how China, thirsty for Sudanese oil, has provided more than 90 percent of the small arms Khartoum bought between 2004 and 2006, along with aircraft and trucks -- many of which were directly used by the government and government-backed militias to commit genocide in Darfur.

In fact, China has become the arms dealer of choice for regimes like those of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the junta that rules Myanmar (not to mention armed factions in Congo's catastrophic civil war). And there is evidence that China has violated the current U.N. embargo on supplying military weapons or training that would be used in Darfur.

And, as a just-released report by the Enough Project points out, these behaviors are counter not just to morality, but also to China's own long-term interests; the people who will throw out Mugabe soon, and the tyrants of Khartoum and Myanmar eventually, will not look with favor on China's record of rewarding their tormentors.

The Olympics should be a time for people to be inspired. And we can be inspired -- for example, by Sudanese-American Olympic athelete Lopez Lomong, a runner who has been selected by the U.S. Olympic team captains to carry the American flag in the opening ceremony today. Lomong has said how honored he feels to be chosen -- and how he's joined Team Darfur because "As athletes, we need to send the message to the [Khartoum] government not to kill or bomb and to China to stop because those guns are not to defend the country, but to kill innocent people." Amen to that!

Elizabeth Palmberg is an assistant editor of Sojourners.

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