Activist Chen Guangcheng and his immediate family are out of China. This is a good thing, and the Obama Administration deserves credit for making it happen.
There will be plenty of opportunity for the American political system to assess the Administration’s initial handling of the matter and what it says about its foreign policy priorities. There are certainly lessons there to be learned.
Today, however, is not an occasion for a policy debate. It is a time for Americans to welcome Chen and his family to freedom in America, to pray for the safety of his extended family and friends back in China, and rededicate themselves to a foreign policy focused on liberty.
It is also time to see the People’s Republic of China for what it is. China is a place that economic development has materially transformed over the last 30 years, a real player in the global economy, and a force to be reckoned with in international politics. China is America’s rival for influence in East and South Asia; it is also occasionally a collaborator in containing the impact of the rivalry.
China is also, however, a place that has not changed since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when it comes to respect for the fundamental rights of its people. This is sometimes hard for the diplomats, scholars, businessmen, and tourists who spend time there to believe. Likewise, there are many privileged, worldly Chinese who fail to see it.
Chen Guangcheng, blind since childhood, sees the truth. The cause he has risked his life for—ending state-enforced abortions pursuant to China’s one-child policy—is one of the most horrid manifestations of China’s debasement of individual liberty.
The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian, yes, “communist” nation. This China is Chen’s day-to-day reality. And it is a brutal reality for many hundreds of millions more. U.S.–China relations will never be normal as long as the Chinese regime is what it is.
But there is another truth involved here. It is America’s. The reality is that, contrary to officials’ assertions, Americans’ love of liberty means that the gears of U.S.–China relations—or relations with any other country, for that matter—can and should be shut down over concern for the plight of one man. And if at any point it is not clear that the United States still remains the world’s greatest hope for the oppressed, both our friends and rivals should know that it is only a temporary state of affairs.