One of the chief arguments in favor of President Obama’s decision to recognize the Communist regime in Cuba more than a half century after the U.S. cut ties with it is that increased contact with Americans eager to do business on the island will eventually lead to more Cuban liberty. This naive assertion was quickly given the lie by Havana as the regime arrested dissidents last week. But we don’t have to wait years to see if a totalitarian regime determined to keep its grip on power can fend off democracy despite the establishment of ties with the U.S. or even robust trade with American companies. The Maoist counterattack against pro-democracy dissenters in China tells us all we need to know about the foolishness of Obama’s faith in engagement with Communism.

As the New York Times reports, China’s swing back to the hard left can’t be dismissed as a temporary trend or merely a feint by President Xi Jinping before he guided the country to a new path of freedom. The Maoist counter-revolution is in full swing in China and those who dared to criticize Communist Party corruption or call for more democracy are feeling the heavy boot of the police state on their necks.

This is a shocking development for those who count China’s lack of freedom as an annoying detail that should be ignored in the rush to do business in the world’s most populous country. Indeed, the U.S.-China relationship is now as much if not more about business than anything else as America falls deeper and deeper in debt to the growing Chinese economy. Inconvenient details about Chinese oppression have been treated as lamentable but essentially insignificant as the country became integrated into the global economy.

But the swing of the Chinese pendulum back toward Maoism is a sign that the regime’s decision to allow a degree of economic freedom should not be confused with a genuine commitment to expanding liberty. To the contrary, China remains a nation where the rule of law is a function of leadership whims while the increasingly strident leftism puts every dollar invested in China in jeopardy along with the freedom of those Chinese who have banked on toleration for capitalism leading to a more liberal state.

Far from the huge influx of American influences, the Chinese regime has not only rendered itself invulnerable to domestic challenges but also able to take back many of the freedoms that some assumed were now facts of life in post-Mao China. Xi Jinping’s China should not be confused with the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution, but the differences have more to do with the Communist desire to further development than any respect for human rights. To the contrary, what the U.S. has acquiesced to in China is a bargain with the devil that has allowed a potential economic and military rival to arise while retaining some of the worst examples of totalitarian tyranny including the existence of its own gulag—the laogai. If the leftist surge is not reversed soon, what the U.S. will have is a rival regime that is fueled in part by American-style capitalism while retaining all the aggression and paranoia of Mao’s evil empire.

The comparison with Cuba is also telling since, as has often been pointed out in the aftermath of Obama’s decision, President Nixon’s opening to Mao’s China had a strategic rationale—countering the still potent Soviet Union—and garnered the U.S. real advantages while Cuba engagement brought the U.S. or Cuban dissidents exactly nothing in exchange.

What can the U.S. do about troubling events in China? Nothing. We lost all our economic leverage over the regime when Congress bowed to a business community that loves commerce more than it loathes Communism and stopped the practice of voting China Most Favored Nation trading status a long time ago. But it is not too late to exercise some influence over Cuba. That is precisely why Congress should not vote to lift the embargo on Cuba despite President Obama’s calls to do so. If Cuba wants an economic relationship with the U.S. it is going to have to pay for it in freedom for its people. Any arguments to the contrary are decisively silenced by the spectacle of the return of Maoism in China.

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