British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Monday Beijing's recent diplomatic overtures to help end fighting in war-torn Darfur was a significant contribution.China's role in Sudan came under renewed international attention when film director Steven Spielberg recently quit as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, saying Beijing had failed to use enough of its sway with Khartoum to seek peace in Darfur.
Following Spielberg's decision, Beijing special envoy to Darfur Liu Guijin called on Sudan to “cooperate better” with a hybrid peacekeeping force backed by the United Nations and African Union.
A hybrid UN-African Union force (UNAMID) took over peacekeeping duties in Darfur this year, that should number 26,000, but so far only 9,000 UNAMID forces are on the ground. Their deployment has been stymied by conditions set by Khartoum.
“That is something where there are clear responsibilities for the Sudanese government and where there's a significant Chinese contribution being made,” said Miliband, in Hong Kong on the first leg of a six-day visit to China.
But Miliband added the responsibility in pressing for peace in Darfur rested not just with China, but also with Britain and members of the UN Security Council.
Rights groups have been pressing Miliband to highlight human rights, freedom of religion and the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region during his visit to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Chongqing and Beijing.
Miliband's trip follows a visit to China last month by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Britain wants to strengthen its ties with China, eyeing its potential as an economic superpower and its rising global influence.
Miliband said human rights should remain on China's longer term agenda after the Olympics.
“I believe that the rule of law and individual rights are not just issues for Olympic year,” Miliband said. “They're issues that need to be on the agenda every year, because they are important universal values.”
“The Olympics do provide an opportunity both for China to show the world how it's changed and for enhanced dialogue between China and the rest of the world,” he said.
Miliband, who does not support an Olympics boycott, said he would raise human rights with China during his visit.
A five-year conflict in Darfur has killed an estimated 200,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said earlier his country had been important in securing cooperation between Sudan and international organizations.
Beijing is a major investor in Sudan's oil industry and the largest supplier of weapons to the country. (Reuters)