Did Spielberg whip China into action?

Country doing just enough to diffuse criticism

When Steven Spielberg pulled out as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics, Chinese government officials were openly critical in their response.

But did the filmmaker’s action — triggered by the lack of progress in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Darfur — have the desired effect?

In the weeks since Spielberg’s withdrawal, the Chinese government dispatched a special envoy to the region and has publicly pledged to cooperate with other countries to try to end the violence that has claimed the lives of 200,000 people and displaced 2.2 million. China is a key oil importer and arms supplier to Sudan, in which Darfur is located.

Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, says Spielberg’s action “was the icing on the cake” of a series of actions that created a public-relations embarrassment for China. There also have been protests at Chinese embassies — and a coalition of stars, Nobel Peace Prize winners, politicians and athletes sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao.

“As the publicity has mounted, they have done just enough, in my mind, to fend off the criticism,” Fowler says.

Yet he notes that China has only diffused criticism, not resolved it. Beijing still opposes U.N. sanctions against officials in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, for refusing the full deployment of UN and African Union peacekeepers.

Fowler says, “(Chinese authorities) are trying to do just enough where they can say, ‘We are doing what we can’… But for them to say we are ruling out sanctions is protecting Khartoum.”

Meanwhile, Paramount is hoping that China, with its import restrictions and censorship regs, will allow the release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Spielberg’s rep says that whether or not the movie gets distribution there played no role in his withdrawal decision.

But if the film doesn’t get a release in China, it’s bound to raise the question of whether China is imposing a boycott of its own.

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