Malloch-Brown to pressure Chinese envoy on Darfur

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Lord Malloch-Brown, the minister for Africa, will meet Liu Giujin, China's special envoy to Darfur, in London this week to discuss the peace process in Sudan in an attempt to gain Beijing's co-operation on the issue.

Lord Malloch-Brown has praised Steven Spielberg for putting pressure on China over its reluctance to condemn its ally Sudan for human rights atrocities in Darfur. He said the film director's decision to withdraw as artistic consultant to the Beijing Olympics had forced China's leaders to "sit up and take notice".

John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, also welcomed the film-maker's actions as a sign of the growing dialogue between China and the rest of the world.

In a joint letter published last week in The Independent a coalition of Nobel prize-winners and international athletes demanded that China stops trading with the regime held responsible for the carnage in Sudan's western region.

Lord Malloch-Brown told The Sunday Times that Spielberg had "focused minds" by severing his links with the Beijing Olympics and said he admired the campaigning on Darfur by the actors George Clooney and Mia Farrow. He said China was in a unique position to force a diplomatic solution to the crisis. "We as a government need to try to engage and move this forward," he said. "But I have absolutely no doubt that what Spielberg did has made China sit up and take notice. It certainly had the effect of concentrating minds in Beijing and elsewhere."

But the minister signalled his opposition to boycotts of events such as the Olympics. "They should be used highly selectively. It would be a big mistake to punish China not for policies at home, but for aspects of its foreign policy. They may be more cautious on action than some of us but that does not make them international villains."

He insisted that Gordon Brown was committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict and had discussed it with China's leaders when he visited the Far East last month.

Lord Malloch-Brown is the second minister to welcome Spielberg's intervention. Last week Tessa Jowell, the Olympics minister, said it was "reasonable" to use the publicity surrounding the Games to push for Beijing to cut ties with the Sudanese regime. She praised the "eloquent" plea for action by the eight Nobel laureates, but rejected calls for a boycott.

Mr Prescott said it was right to engage in dialogue with China and said Spielberg's criticism was "part of the dialogue that goes in which I very much support".

He said: "Criticisms can be made, and properly so, on all sorts of things ... human rights ... the Olympics. All those kind of things are issues for proper debate." Mr Prescott added: "But I do worry that the language seems to be wrapped in the Cold War and I do think that would be very unfortunate because China is coming more and more out into the world, playing a bigger part, and we should encourage that."