LONDON (Reuters) - A Chinese official said on Thursday he was surprised by Oscar-winning film director Steven Spielberg’s withdrawal as artistic adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympics because he had never formally taken up the job.
Liu Guijin, China’s special representative on Sudan’s Darfur region, said the Beijing Olympic organizing committee had sent Spielberg a recruitment letter but because he had not signed it by the deadline of May 10 last year “theoretically he was not art(istic) director to the ... Beijing Olympic games.”
“It was a great surprise for me that he should have resigned. There is no such question of resignation,” Liu told reporters during a visit to London.
Spielberg last week said he would end his involvement as one of the overseas artistic advisers to the Olympics over China’s policy on the conflict in Darfur.
“I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual,” Spielberg said in a statement issued on the same day as Nobel Peace laureates sent a letter to China’s president urging a change in policies toward its ally Sudan.
A spokesman for the director said on Thursday Spielberg himself noted in his statement that he had left unsigned the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics Games contract, but that there had never been “formal closure” of any kind.
China is a leading oil customer of Sudan and is accused by critics of providing diplomatic cover for it as it stonewalls international efforts to send peacekeepers into Darfur.
Liu said he and Spielberg had an in-depth discussion of Darfur last September.
“I told him ... at that time: Mr. Spielberg, I know that you are no longer art adviser to ... the Beijing Olympics but still I would like to discuss the question with you,” he said.
China had said previously it regretted Spielberg’s decision.
Liu said it was unreasonable to link Darfur with the August Olympics and China would not accept any attempt to blackmail it.
After talks with government officials and legislators in London, Liu will visit Sudan and Chad as part of a diplomatic push by Beijing to counter international criticism over Darfur.
He said he would advise Sudan to cooperate more with the deployment of a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force and urge Sudan and Chad to restore good relations.
Western countries have accused Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of dragging his feet to try to block the full deployment of up to 26,000 peacekeepers. Chad and Sudan accuse each other of supporting insurgents in Darfur and eastern Chad.
Liu detailed China’s humanitarian efforts in the region and said Western media exaggerated China’s importance as an arms supplier to Sudan.
Additional reporting by Sue Zeidler in Los Angeles; editing by Andrew Roche and Mohammad Zargham