The Obama administration has talked a great deal about a “pivot to Asia,” meaning, presumably a policy of getting tough with China. Now it faces an unexpected but significant test of just how tough it will get. Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer, has put the administration on the spot with his unlikely and daring escape from home arrest and his flight of more than 300 miles, apparently culminating in safety at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
The Chinese security services have large helpings of egg on their face after having let a blind man beat their tight surveillance, and in a society that values “face”–to say nothing of societal control–as much as China does, they will presumably stop at little to get him back. That could make for some uncomfortable meetings in Beijing, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials are about to arrive. But both American honor and American interests mean that Chen must be allowed to shelter on American territory as long as he wants.
The U.S, is after all, the greatest champion of human rights in the world. We would have little credibility to advocate on human rights if we were to throw such a brave and prominent exponent of human rights in China–a man who has challenged the forced sterilization and abortion policies of the Communist regime–to the wolves. Just as bad, we would have little strategic credibility with China’s neighbors, who look to American leadership to stand up to Chinese adventurism–if we were to cave in and supinely allow China to get its way with someone who has sought–and deserves–our protection. However much the administration may not be happy about it, it must offer long-term protection to Chen.