China "regrets" Steven Spielberg's Darfur decision

BEIJING Thu Feb 14, 2008 5:14pm EST

Steven Spielberg waves at the Women in Film 2007 Crystal and Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills, California June 14, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Steven Spielberg waves at the Women in Film 2007 Crystal and Lucy Awards in Beverly Hills, California June 14, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

BEIJING (Reuters) - China voiced its disappointment on Thursday over movie director Steven Spielberg's decision to quit his Beijing Olympics role because of China's policies in Sudan and said the Games would be a success regardless.

"We express regret," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference. "All preparation work for the Beijing Olympics is proceeding smoothly. The Chinese people are willing to work with artists from around the world with wisdom and talent and the Olympic Games will be a success."

The Hollywood director said he pulled out of his role as an artistic adviser because China was doing too little to help halt the bloodshed in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, where Khartoum-linked militia have battled rebel groups.

Nine Nobel Peace laureates also wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging him to change policy towards Sudan, where China has big oil investments. Beijing has often said it is working for peace in Darfur.

China's state media accused Western countries of abusing the Olympics to pressure Beijing and said the boycotts "disgusted" Chinese people.

"Western exploitation of the Olympics to pressure China immediately provoked much disgust among ordinary Chinese people," said the Global Times, a current affairs tabloid run by the Communist Party's People's Daily.

"The vast majority of Chinese people have expressed bafflement and outrage at the Western pressure. In their view, it's absolutely absurd to place the Darfur issue, so many thousands of miles away, on the head of China."

"NOT IN OLYMPIC SPIRIT"

U.S. President George W. Bush said before a trip to Africa that he planned to attend the Beijing Olympics and viewed them as a sporting event, not a stage for expressing his views.

"I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg, so I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur," he told BBC World News America in an interview.

Sudan said Spielberg's decision was based on "wrong information" and overlooked China's positive role in the region.

"They are playing a positive role in terms of general assistance and humanitarian assistance," said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig.

"They have peacekeepers there as well."

Liu said Chinese companies operating in Sudan were playing a constructive role, making donations to help reconstruction and engaging in development work such as digging wells.

Beijing's Olympic organizing committee said the government was making "unremitting efforts" to resolve the Darfur crisis.

"Linking the Darfur issue to the Olympic Games will not help to resolve this issue and is not in line with the Olympic spirit that separates sports from politics," the committee said in a statement.

Darfur activists quickly retorted that China had long used the Olympics in its decades-old dispute with Taiwan and had joined the Western-led boycott of 1980 Moscow Olympics.

"China is not being honest about its own use of the Olympics over time -- and even its political use of the Games right now," Jill Savitt, executive director of Dream for Darfur, said in a statement.

Some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in more than four years of conflict in Darfur, according to estimates by international experts. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.

"China is also concerned about the humanitarian situation there and China has played an active role in pushing forward the peace process," Liu said.

"Holding up banners and shouting slogans will not solve the problem. What we need are concrete actions."

Reuters