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April 14, 2007

Mia Farrow, Stephen Spielberg And Our Best Hope In Sudan

by Stephen of the Thinkery

Okay, this is really something.  Mia Farrow wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about the situation in Darfur.  In it she publicly called for Stephen Spielberg to take action about the genocide happening there.

What could Spielberg have to do with it?  Quite a bit, it seems, since he is an "artistic adviser to the Chinese government for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

It's clear now, right?

Well, maybe not.  See, China has been reluctant to go along with anything that's been proposed in the UN.  The Chinese have extensive business interests in Sudan, and  their unwillingness to help apply diplomatic pressure, President Hassan al-Bashir has felt secure in resisting African, US and European calls for a cease-fire and peacekeeping forces.

When Farrow's op-ed hit, Spielberg wrote a letter to Hu Jintao, China's President.  Hu Jintao sent Zhai Jun, described in the article as "a senior Chinese official" to Darfur, where he toured refugee camps and reportedly pressured Hassan al-Bashir to accept UN peacekeepers.

So often US and European dealings with Asian countries are hampered by the gulf between Western and Eastern ways of thinking.  What matters to Westerners may not to Easterners.  Whether Mia Farrow knew how effective her op-ed would be is debatable, but she certainly was able to zero in on what would make the Chinese government notice - the 2008 Olympics.  This is China's coming out party.  It is hugely important that everything go well, at least as well as all previous games, and the goal is to outperform everyone.  When the Chinese government saw the possibility of linking their Olympic Games to the genocide in Sudan, they took action.

I'm usually very wary of actors getting involved in political issues.  Most often they're completely out of their depth and just embarrass all of us.  Look at Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger.  But this was well done.

April 14, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I had casually scanned something that indicated that China had gotten more involved in Darfur, but I didn't know the backstory. Fascinating! Just think if some major western governments had acted on the Bejing Olympics pressure thing regarding Darfur, instead of a lonely movie producer/director.

Even more tantalizing is that the business interests you mention are heavily weighted to OIL, since Sudan supposedly has substantial undrilled reserves (and no capital to exploit them), and the Chinese have been making long-term oil deals anywhere they can get them.

That the Olympics are more important than oil to the Chinese just knocks me over though. Who could have known?

Once again, the Bush folks look really stupid (again). First they didn't prevent the Chinese oil deals with Sudan, now they have lost the humanitarian glow because we though Sudanese terrorist intelligence was more important than genocide. With a flip of the hand, the Chinese made Bush look powerless.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 14, 2007 9:26:16 PM

Don't forget, Jim, that the progress made recently with North Korea was also due almost entirely to China. And, the recent tensions and the fact that North Korea has "missed" its deadline is due to the Bush Administration freezing North Korean funds in a Macau bank without any real evidence.

The amount of influence Bush has caused the US to lose is staggering. China has appropriated much of that influence, and I don't think anyone knows whether that is positive or negative.

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 14, 2007 10:19:55 PM

Interesting chain of events. I was surprised to hear the Chinese had finally shown up in Sudan as though they cared, and that Sudan had supposedly become more accepting of UN troops (though that part has supposedly happened before). Would never have suspected this connection. Hope something good comes from it.

For some reason, Spielberg's first name is misspelled here ....

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 14, 2007 11:37:10 PM

Vanity, I suppose, it's the way I spell my name. Plus it's a habit.

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 15, 2007 8:46:56 AM

Look at Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Nice shot at Republicans.
The huge difference between Republicans actors and Democrat Hollywood types is that Republicans use the prescribed process....the get elected first.

On the other side you have Alec Baldwin, Streisand, George Clooney, DiCaprio, Rosie O'Donnell, etc. who are UNELECTED, but speak as if they were. Instead of getting elected or even getting involved in local politics, they prefer to carp from the sidelines on national issue.

The funniest thing I have seen in a while was John Travolta preaching about global warming while he has 5 jet airplanes, one a 727. Now *that's* entertainment!!

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 15, 2007 9:05:34 AM

Fred,
get back to me when dobson, falwell, et al get elected to anything. I'm eager to start listening to what they have to say.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Apr 15, 2007 10:17:23 AM

aimai,

You haven't taken your ADD meds this morning. Here is what the issue was per Ezra:
"I'm usually very wary of actors getting involved in political issues." The key word for discussion here was ACTORS (dummy).

So what movies have Falwell and Dobson been in? I must have missed them?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 15, 2007 11:32:46 AM

Fred,

I wrote the post, not Ezra.

Also, before you start using all-caps in an attempt to make anyone look stupid, your basis for criticizing supposedly liberal actors being involved in politics is that conservative actors get, and I quote, "elected first." You then mention that Alec Baldwin, et al., are, and again I quote, "UNELECTED."

So aimai rightly considered that it's important to you that those who haven't been elected to public office should just keep their mouths shut. People like Alec Baldwin, James Dobson, me and you. Or do you only have a problem with actors who do that?

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 15, 2007 11:51:19 AM

"That the Olympics are more important than oil to the Chinese just knocks me over though. Who could have known?"

The Chinese are bending over backwards to avoid getting dependent on foreign oil. They're securing what oil they can, but want to make sure they never really need a foreing oil supplier bad enough to, say, go to war over it.

Not that this is all sunshine and puppies - the coal energy they're focusing on instead (due to China possessing significant coal reserves) is doing some major environmental damage to their country. But the idea that China is willing to drop an oil interest for good PR doesn't surprise me overmuch.

Posted by: Kylroy | Apr 15, 2007 12:20:47 PM

Actually, neither Reagan nor Schwarzzenegger had been elected to anything when they started their careers of political activism. Neither was elected governor of California in a vacuum.

It was, ironically, not until the Reagan was elected president that I first heard people complaining about actors getting involved in politics. It part this was projection on the part of the Republicans. They knew they were vulnerable given that one of their leaders' most compelling aspects about him was that he was a charismatic actor, so they preemptively began to badmouth public figures who were also activists.

Stephen's actual post does show is that most Hollywood stars are actually little different than well-connected business leaders/entrepreneurs. They have access to both their personal wealth and a large network of power brokers and fundraisers. This is where they come in handy.

Posted by: Constantine | Apr 15, 2007 1:30:05 PM

Don't underestimate just how badly China wants to win the upcoming Olympics--it's their home turf, and they really want to make a statement about being the nation to beat in the 21st century. Anything less than 1. gold medal lead or 2. overall medal lead is going to be a major disappointment.

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Posted by: wines | Oct 29, 2007 2:44:51 AM

I am a Chinese, and I believe that China does have a roll in Sudan and the genocide. But don't put it this way! You can't just say that China is funding a genocide. There is a genocide in Darfur, Sudan is backing it, China is doing business with Sudan, so it means that China is supporting a genocide? That sounds ugly, doens't it! Let us put it in another way, if China is supporting the genocide, the US has a business relationship with China, so the US is also supporting a genocide, and so is the rest of the world, right?

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