13 February 2008

So Steven Spielberg has given up on trying to sway the Chinese government to make things happen in Darfur, and resigned (he never signed his contract) as an advisor to the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies.

Mr. Spielberg, it can safely be assumed, has the best of intentions and tried in his own way to work within the system as a voice of “moral authority”, sending a letter to Hu Jintao and trying to get a meeting to discuss his concerns. He did get to meet the Chinese special envoy to Darfur at the UN, but obviously wasn’t satisfied.

So far there seem to be two sides to this. One is Mia Farrow and others who are “jubilant”. Ms Farrow, who started the “Genocide Olympics” campaign, said “His voice and all of the moral authority it gives, used this way, brings a shred of hope to Darfur, and God knows, rations of hope are meager at this time”.

On the other side we have opinions like that shared at Silicon Hutong: “Public efforts by governments, organizations, or individuals from outside of China to coerce or embarrass Beijing into a policy change on matters either foreign or domestic do not work. Instead, they consistently provoke a visceral negative response that is often seen by outsiders as disproportionate or even extreme.”

As SH points out, its not even clear if the Chinese government has enough pull with Khartoum to get them to end the crisis in Darfur. Silicon Hutong argues that “effective diplomacy … also requires tact”, and that Spielberg would have a better chance of success by working discreetly. “How wonderful it would have been to have Mr. Spielberg as a genuine public ambassador, someone with credibility and real pull in China who could help make things happen. Or, indeed, to see China active in the resolution of the Darfur situation, finding out later that Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Farrow played critical roles in driving the process.”

I think there’s another way that no one is talking about here. In a discussion with Feng37, the question was raised about whether the belief that you must work in secret is actually a tactic used by the Chinese government to prevent public embarassments. In other words, if Spielberg worked silently (and not publicized his letter to Hu Jintao or other efforts), he may have simply been strung along with the promise of slow progress until the Olympics were over, only to be ignored afterwards. But one thing that no one, not Mia Farrow, or Spielberg, or the Free Tibet crowd, are not trying, and that’s addressing the Chinese people directly. The assumption on both sides, the idealist Save Darfur campaign and the realist perspective of Silicon Hutong, is that for any movement on the issue you must petition the Chinese government. What about petitioning the Chinese people?

Imagine Spielberg’s statement on Darfur was not in English, and not delivered to Western media and the Chinese government. Imagine, instead, his first and perhaps only statement was in Chinese, and emailed and posted throughout the Chinese Internet. It could’ve read something like this:

Dear Citizens of China,

My name is Steven Spielberg. Some of you may know my name because you’ve seen some of the American movies I’ve directed. Some of you may also know that I have been working with Zhang Yimou planning the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. I want to tell all of you, the Chinese people, why I’m resigning from my post, because ultimately, the Beijing Olympics belong to you, the people of China, and as my employers, you deserve an explanation.

For the past several years, horrible atrocities have been occurring in the African nation of Sudan, and the world has not been doing enough to stop it. UN peacekeepers and aid workers have been expelled from the country, while thousands have been killed. I dearly wish to see peace in Sudan, and I know that the Chinese people feel the same, as they know all too well the horrors of war. The atrocities in Sudan share many similarities to the atrocities brought by the Japanese to China, just as the Nazis committed similar crimes across Europe.

More can be done to prevent these horrors in Sudan today. The Chinese government last year appointed a special envoy to Sudan and made an effort to end the violence, but attacks continue. China has a great deal of influence in Sudan, through its strong economic relationship with the government of that country. I emphatically reject any idea that China is responsible for these tragedies, as some Westerners have suggested. But I do think that China is in a unique position to lead the world in stopping these crimes, by threatening to break off all trade with the government of Sudan. Indeed, did China not naturally wish the same when foreign countries continued to trade with the Japanese Empire?

China is rapidly taking its rightful place among the great nations of the world, and you should be proud. I was and still am truly honored to be associated with the Beijing Olympics. But I have been unable to convince the leaders of China to punish Sudan for its crimes. I am not a diplomat, I am afraid. I have little talent for it, as I am only a film director. But I ask you, the Chinese people, to act on your love of peace and stability, and sever your relationship with Sudan until it stops the violence. Let the Olympics be a symbol of China’s reverence for peace and life that inspires the world. And I will continue to let the world know that the Chinese people stand, always, against the evils of war.

Your humble friend,
Steven Spielberg

I’m sure there are better ways to write such an open letter, and no doubt in Chinese there would some perfect phrases to use. But even if it was received as obnoxious or arrogant, Spielberg would have accomplished something new: he would’ve have spoken to the people, not the leaders.

Add: Along the same lines, the Nobel Laureate Open Letter to China at the Save Darfur Campaign could use a Chinese version, couldn’t it? And maybe instead of addressing Hu Jintao, address the Chinese public?

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