Blame China, not Obama or US, for the plight of activist Chen Guangcheng
Beijing, not US mishandling, is responsible for activist Chen's predicament. The US often needs to balance its concern for human rights in favor of Beijing’s cooperation on pressing global issues. This is not one of those times. Obama must stand up to China to defend Chen’s rights.
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There is no question that the relationship with China is now America's most important worldwide. There are plenty of vital issues – Iran, North Korea, Syria, the global economy – for the two governments to discuss. And we often need to balance our concern for human rights in favor of progress in the security and political realm. This is not one of those times.Skip to next paragraph
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In the end, what separates America and China is the huge ideological gulf between us on the core issue of human freedom. Chen’s case has become so important symbolically that we simply cannot afford to “balance” it with any other issue this week. We need to stand up to China to defend Chen’s right to live a normal and peaceful life.
One thing is certain. No matter how this drama ends, it has exposed for all the world to see China’s Achilles heel as an emerging superpower. Its denial of basic rights and the brutal repression of its people will discredit the communist regime in every corner of the world and may very well be its ultimate undoing.
The US remains the single greatest power not just because we have a stronger military than China but due to our core belief in what the 19th century Boston abolitionist Theodore Parker described so powerfully: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one…..I am sure it bends toward justice.”
Nicholas Burns is professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics, and director of the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He served as under secretary of State for political affairs from 2005 to 2008. Previously, he was US ambassador to NATO.
This piece also appeared on the Power & Policy blog at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.