The peculiar case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind dissident who won, relinquished and now once again seeks refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, presents a classic test for President Obama and for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The test is whether the United States should put its founding principles of defending democracy and human rights ahead of international economic and political considerations — considerations that, in this case, involve the most populous and increasingly powerful nation on Earth.
Publicly, the United States has encouraged people everywhere, from the Middle East to Asia to Africa, who live under the thumb of authoritarianism to seek freedom.
Privately, Washington doesn’t always follow through on those exhortations.
“The plight of Chen Guangcheng illustrates the growing decline in American moral authority in foreign policy,” said Institute for Policy resident scholar Merrill Matthews, a founder of Project Liberty, a new group of conservatives attempting to make their voices heard over what they regard as the din of political partisanship.
“When the U.S. protests the handling of certain dissidents, does anyone care?” Mr. Matthews said. “Such incidents could be seen as an opportunity to make it clear where the U.S. stands with respect to human rights, and why.”
Instead, he argues, dissidents increasingly are seen as a problem that plays badly in the press and hurts a president’s re-election chances.
Seeing this latest diplomatic crisis through a partisan prism is irresistible for some.
On Thursday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said the Obama administration had “failed” to protect Mr. Chen.
“It’s incumbent upon the United States to speak for Chen and his wife and family and for those who helped him escape,” said Lee Edwards, a Heritage Foundation scholar and former adviser to the legendary Rep. Walter H. Judd, Minnesota Republican and a determined opponent in the 1950s of rapprochement with communist China.View Entire Story
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Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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