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Jewish World Review July 31, 2001 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5761

Robert W. Tracinski

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Where does America stand? -- GAO ZHAN has seen the cruelty of the Chinese dictatorship firsthand and up close, as a native of China and through the last five and a half months of captivity under trumped-up accusations of spying. But she has emerged unbowed. Here are her words upon returning to America:

"Before I departed Beijing, I was warned not to talk about anything, not to talk about my time, my experience in China, in any form, which included meeting with you guys (the press) here, writing articles, writing books in the future. But with America standing behind me, with these fine people standing behind me, I'm not scared. Here I can breathe freely, and now speak freely."

Gao will soon be sworn in as a U.S. citizen -- but with this kind of courage, this haughty defiance of tyranny, she is already an American in spirit.

Unfortunately, however, she overestimates the support she can expect from the leaders of her adopted country.

Against all reason, the Bush administration has taken Gao's release, and the release of another permanent U.S. resident detained in the same incident, as a victory for diplomacy. In fact, it is the kind of crude propaganda one expects from a dictatorship. The Chinese have a long history of arresting and terrorizing dissidents, then releasing them a few days before a visit by an American diplomat, in an obvious attempt to wheedle a little good will from the West -- until the diplomat leaves, and the Chinese grab a few new dissidents.

Colin Powell showed a little bit of mental progress on this issue when he told reporters that "It is not so much individual cases that should be our principal focus and concern, but the system" -- meaning the Chinese legal system, which places no limits or controls on the government's persecution of innocent people. But Powell destroyed any such progress when he went on to describe this as a "system that occasionally might go after people who perhaps should not be gone after, or who are not being given the full protection of the law, and their universal human rights might be trampled upon."

"Occasionally" -- "might" -- "perhaps"? If you were a member of the Chinese junta, would you be shaking in your boots, or would you conclude that you are dealing with cowards who are afraid to name the truth -- and who will therefore allow you to get away with anything?

Remember that this follows on the heels of the Chinese knockdown of our surveillance plane -- an act of Chinese aggression for which we apologized -- and our subsequent refusal to oppose Beijing's successful bid for the 2008 Olympics. The twin pillars of U.S.-China policy have been appeasement and evasion: appeasement, in the form of a series of concessions and compromises intended to curry favor with China's rulers, justified by a steadfast evasion of the facts that brand China as a dangerous dictatorship; and an evasion of the lessons of history, which demonstrate that an aggressor who is not punished will be emboldened.

Our politicians are partly responding to the mood of the American people, who have been strangely blase about China.

Perhaps they have been assured that communist governments will eventually collapse on their own, by some impersonal law of history -- not through intransigent military and moral opposition. Perhaps they have been told that diplomatic engagement and commerce will somehow "open up" China -- even while Western leaders and businessmen try not to offend the dictators who want to keep their country closed. Perhaps they have been told that America has its own past sins, that no culture can claim to be superior to any other culture -- and thus that we have no right to stand up for freedom and justice in the rest of the world.

All of these myths need to be debunked. But who better to debunk them then those whose job is to determine our China policy? The job of our leaders is to be leaders, to see what needs to be done in the face of aggression and injustice, and to make their case to the American people -- who have rarely failed, in the past, to respond to a plea to defend freedom against dictatorship.

Gao deserves to see her courage matched by the courage of her leaders and representatives. She deserves to know that they do, in fact, stand behind her and the other scholars and dissidents engaged in a desperate struggle for freedom.

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