Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for alleged war crimes, will be given a red-carpet welcome Wednesday by Chinese President Hu Jintao, in defiance of criticism of the visit by rights groups.
The two presidents will sit down for talks in the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing after the usual pomp and circumstance of a welcoming ceremony not often afforded to Bashir, who is unwelcome in many countries.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred in Sudan’s western Darfur region, where about 300,000 people have died since 2003.
China nevertheless remains a stalwart and unabashed supporter of the Sudanese leader, who was the first sitting head of state targeted by an ICC arrest warrant.
On the agenda will be the ongoing north-south peace process in Sudan, the situation in war-torn Darfur – two topics that could also lead to discussions of how Bashir’s regime intends to safeguard Chinese investment in his country.
Beijing is a key military supplier to the regime in Khartoum and the biggest buyer of the country’s oil, although the majority of Sudan’s oil fields are located in the south, which will become independent on July 9.
In an interview with China’s official Xinhua news agency ahead of the visit, Bashir insisted that southern independence “will not affect the relationship” between Beijing and Khartoum, hailing China as a model “real partner”.
“This visit is the continuation of the distinguished relations between Sudan and China, which have remained friendly and progressive,” Bashir said.
Beijing on Tuesday again defended the visit, with foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying: “As a friendly country of China, the Sudanese leader’s visit to China is quite reasonable.” The Sudanese leader’s visit has sparked outrage among rights groups, and earned the reproach of the US State Department.
“We continue to oppose invitations, facilitation, support for travel by ICC indictees,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
ICC statutes dictate that any member country should arrest Bashir if he visits. China is not a party to those statutes, nor is the United States.
“We reserve our opinion on the ICC’s prosecution against President Bashir,” Hong said Tuesday.
Bashir arrived in China one day late after his presidential plane was turned back to Iran while flying over Turkmenistan. Hong attributed the delay to “technical reasons”.
New York-based Human Rights Watch described Bashir’s trip as “an affront to victims of heinous crimes committed in Darfur” and had urged Beijing to arrest Bashir on arrival.
Amnesty International said earlier this month that China risked becoming a “safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide” if it hosted Bashir.