BEIJING - Hollywood director Steven Spielberg's decision to quit the Beijing Olympics over the Darfur crisis is drawing condemnation by China's state-controlled media and a groundswell of criticism from the Chinese public.
Last week, the American director withdrew from his role as an artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Games, accusing China of not doing enough to press for peace in the troubled Sudanese region.
Officially, the Chinese government has not directly criticized Spielberg by name, expressing only "regret" over his decision. But the state-run media and the public have been far less restrained.
In newspaper commentaries and lively Internet forums, they have expressed outrage, scorn and bewilderment that China's Olympics have come under international criticism from Spielberg and others.
A biting front-page editorial Wednesday in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper, blasted Spielberg for his decision.
"A certain Western director was very naive and made an unreasonable move toward the issue of the Beijing Olympics. This is perhaps because of his unique Hollywood characteristics," it said.
Over the weekend, the Guangming Daily, also published by the Communist Party, ran an editorial saying Spielberg "broke his promise to make his contribution to the Beijing Olympics and betrayed the Olympic spirit."
He "is not qualified to blame China because he knows nothing about the great efforts the Chinese government has made on Darfur," it said.
An editorial in the China Youth Daily was equally scathing.
"This renowned film director is famous for his science fiction. But now it seems he lives in a world of science fiction and he can't distinguish a dream from reality," it said.
China is believed to have influence over Sudanese leaders because it buys two-thirds of the African country's oil exports. China also sells weapons to the Islamic government and defends it in the United Nations.
More than 200,000 people have died in Darfur in a conflict between rebels and militias backed by government forces.
China often uses its newspapers to make statements it does not want to officially comment on. But the issue also has exploded on the Internet, where scores of Chinese have been quick to add their criticism of Spielberg.
"We should have never invited him in the first place," was one retort on Sina.com, the country's largest Internet portal.
Others asked why China's Olympic Games were being linked to Darfur.
"Spielberg used the sacred Olympics as a tool. There are so many simpler or more complicated issues than the Darfur issue in the world," one said. "I rarely heard him say anything. Why was he so keen this time?"
But the recent storm of international criticism has prodded China to take some steps.
Earlier this week, the Foreign Ministry announced that China's special envoy to Darfur will be making his fourth visit to the region later this month.
In a telephone call Tuesday to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Premier Wen Jiabao detailed China's efforts to establish peace in Darfur, a move that underscored the sensitivity of the issue.
On Wednesday, the head of marketing for the Beijing Olympics defended China's stance on Darfur and appealed to activists not to pressure sponsors to pull out of the games.
"China has been doing a lot toward the resolution of the Darfur issue," said Yuan Bin, director of the Beijing Olympics marketing department. "I want to say the Olympics should be kept nonpolitical."
In an interview published Wednesday, China's special envoy to Darfur said that Western countries can help move forward the peace process by pushing rebel leaders to take part in negotiations.
"Western powers can exert more positive influence on those rebel leaders because many of them live in Western capitals," envoy Liu Guijin told the China Daily newspaper.
Abdel Wahid Nur, one of the most influential rebel leaders, lives in France.
Liu will be making his fourth visit to Darfur later this month. In a telephone call Tuesday to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Premier Wen Jiabao detailed China's efforts to establish peace in Darfur, a move that underscored the sensitivity of the issue.