Darfur Activists Push Spielberg to Pressure China As Sudan's largest trading partner, China has become a focal point for Darfur-genocide activism. As fate would have it, Steven Spielberg — who is consulting on the Beijing Olympics — may be in a position of extraordinary influence.
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Darfur Activists Push Spielberg to Pressure China

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Darfur Activists Push Spielberg to Pressure China

Darfur Activists Push Spielberg to Pressure China

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Hollywood celebrities are speaking out on the Darfur crisis. One example, last December, George Clooney took his case to the United Nations.

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): We urge those with influence on Khartoum - China, Egypt, Russia and others - to use it energetically on behalf of the civilians of Darfur.

SIEGEL: China has become a focal point, because it is Sudan's largest oil customer and has opposed sanctions against Sudan.

NPR's Kim Masters reports that Steven Spielberg may be in a position to try to influence the Chinese.

KIM MASTERS: Celebrities adopt all sorts of causes. But when it comes to Darfur, they may be uniquely situated to make their opinions count.

Actress Mia Farrow.

Ms. MIA FARROW (Actress): From looking so intensely at this, it was apparent that there is one thing that China holds more dear than its unfettered access to Sudanese oil. And that is its successful staging of the 2008 Olympic games.

MASTERS: So stars are trying to establish the link between the Olympics and Darfur. Last year, George Clooney and Don Cheadle traveled with two Olympic athletes to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing. That encounter didn't produce any significant results, but that could be changing.

Susan Rice of the Brookings Institution was assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration. While no celebrity has called for an Olympic boycott, Rice says that Chinese want to avoid any problems associated with the games.

Ms. SUSAN RICE (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): They clearly want to preserve the Olympics as a hallmark of China's coming of age in the 21st century as a leader on the global stage. And if there were even debate over a boycott that reached a high level, that would diminish their objectives.

MASTERS: As it happens, Steven Spielberg is situated better than any other celebrity and many political leaders to press the Chinese on this point. He is artistic advisor to the Chinese on the games, and he has come under pressure to act.

Last March, Mia Farrow wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Spielberg should take advantage of this role in what she called the genocide Olympics. If he did nothing, she said, he would risk becoming the Leni Riefenstahl of the '08 games. That reference to the filmmaker who lent her talents to glorifying Hitler had to strike Spielberg deeply, given his efforts to commemorate those who died in the Holocaust.

Ms. FARROW: My intention was never to hurt Steven Spielberg. I just wanted to move things. Something had to move. He couldn't do that without knowing.

MASTERS: Spielberg has not commented publicly on Farrow's broadside, and he declined our request for comment again today. But just days after Farrow's article appeared, Spielberg wrote to the Chinese president. He said he greatly values his association with the Olympics, but recognizes - as he put it - the importance of speaking out on behalf of those who are targeted by their governments for murder. He requested that the Chinese pressure Sudan to accept the peacekeeping force. There has been no word of a Chinese response.

Farrow hopes Spielberg will keep up the pressure.

Ms. FARROW: He doesn't hold the key, but he has a great point of leverage. He is a person of immense respect. And if he were to withdraw his cooperation, it would be huge.

MASTERS: Sources close to Spielberg said the filmmaker will address the situation soon. Farrow says as long as he continues in his role, he lends the Chinese an aura of respectability.

Kim Masters, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And you can read the full text of Steve Spielberg's letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao at our Web site, npr.org.

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