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BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese state newspaper has lambasted Hollywood director Steven Spielberg for quitting the Beijing Olympic Games over Darfur, saying "childish" vanity politics lies behind Western criticism of Beijing policy.
China's role in Sudan came under a harsh international spotlight last week when Spielberg quit as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Games, claiming China had failed to use enough of its sway with Khartoum to press for peace in Darfur.
At the time, Chinese officials expressed muted disappointment with the Oscar-winning director.
But the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's official paper, came out swinging on Wednesday.
"A certain Western director is very naive and has come out with an over-the-top act that defies common sense. Perhaps that's just the special temperament of Hollywood figures," the commentary said in an unmistakable reference to Spielberg.
"The Darfur problem was not created by China and is not in any way related to China's policies in Africa ... Linking the Darfur problem to the Beijing Olympics is unfair."
The rhetorical blast came as Beijing also lifted its diplomatic profile on Darfur, seeking to douse criticism and protests that could mar the Olympics, which begin in August.
The government wants to use the Games as a showcase for its economic successes.
Premier Wen Jiabao said on Tuesday that his country was striving for peace in the troubled Sudanese region, and China also announced its envoy to Darfur, Liu Guijin, would travel to Britain and Sudan in coming days.
"We're willing with Britain to continue making ceaseless efforts to appropriately resolve the Darfur issue," Wen told British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The state newspaper was less polite.
It said Western activists and media have distorted China's role in Sudan for their own ends.
"They say they are working for the people of Darfur, but in fact they are acting out of self-interest. Pressuring China can win them political capital," said the commentary. It called Western reporting on the controversy "infantile and laughable."
China is a leading oil customer and supplier of weapons to Sudan, and critics accuse Beijing of providing diplomatic cover for Khartoum as it stonewalls international efforts to send peacekeepers into Darfur.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu said on Tuesday that patient negotiation was the way to defuse the conflict, which international experts estimate has killed 200,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes. Khartoum says 9,000 people have died there.
The newspaper said "holding a good Olympics would be the most powerful counter-attack" to China's critics.
Editing by Ken Wills and Jerry Norton