Now that Chen has made a series of increasingly anxious statements from his hospital bed, some quite critical of his American protectors, the United States would be well advised to bring his fate back to the center of the talks in Beijing this week.
Secretary Clinton has every right to remind the Chinese government about the commitments it made to permit Chen to rejoin his family and live a life free of intimidation and for continued American government access to him. Given the confusion surrounding Chen’s decision to leave the embassy, this will also make it clear where the US stands – on Chen’s side against China’s cynical leaders.
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.
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.