Both China and the usual Western nations sent observers to monitor Sudan’s recent elections, but they didn’t seem to be watching the same polls. While Washington criticized the vote that returned Omar al-Bashir to power for “serious irregularities,” Beijing called the affair a “smooth and orderly…success.” The difference isn’t entirely surprising: the West views Bashir as the mastermind of the Darfur slaughter, while China sees him as a business partner who has granted Beijing billions of dollars in oil deals over the past 15 years.
The surprise is that China, a one-party state that does not hold any national elections, would even bother to send monitors to anyone else’s vote. This is the kind of venture Beijing normally blasts as meddling in others’ internal affairs. Yet since 2005, China has also dispatched election observers to the Palestinian territories, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan. Analysts say these ventures show that China’s growing global business presence puts Beijing under pressure to take part in things like foreign elections–even if in a passive role. They also say China is moving at least in some ways to work within the geopolitical framework supported by the West rather than scorning it altogether. “It would be odd for China not to be involved in some way,” says Sarah Raine, a fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. In this case, China is pretending to play by the rules–even if it still refuses to publicly condemn cheaters..
By Isaac Stone Fish