US Vice President Joe Biden visited China early this month, hoping to soften Beijing’s stance on the newly established East China Sea air defense identification zone (ADIZ) through his “personal relationship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). In the end, they failed to reach any consensus after marathon talks of five and a half hours, as they both stuck to their positions.
Perhaps the only sparkle of the visit came when Biden, who was accompanied by US Ambassador to China Gary Locke, dropped by the consular department at the US embassy in Beijing on Dec. 4 and ran into a line of Chinese visa applicants there. He waved to the hundreds of Chinese visa seekers and said that “innovation can only occur when you breathe free” and encouraged the Chinese people to challenge the government, their teachers and their religious leaders.
The US embassy in Beijing is considered US territory, and what Biden says on US territory does not have very much to do with China. Some Chinese Internet users even mocked his remarks, saying that the Chinese visa seekers he saw at the embassy are going to the US to challenge US President Barack Obama rather than staying in China to challenge Xi.
Chinese dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), Xu Zhiyong (許志永) and Wang Bingzhang (王炳章) are all in Chinese prisons; this is what happens in China when you challenge the government.
One important thing that Biden did not do during his visit was to personally urge Xi to release Liu and his wife, Liu Xia (劉霞), during his face-to-face meeting with the Chinese president.
Before Biden’s departure to China, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN American Center published an open letter to him in which they expressed their hope that he would demand that Beijing release Liu, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, stop harassing his wife, and reiterate the US’ feeling of responsibility on the human rights issue.
In their open letter, the three organizations said:
“We understand that there are a plethora of important issues that you will be discussing when you are in Beijing, but we hope that this will be one of them. Please continue to raise Liu Xiaobo’s case at every available opportunity and demand that authorities end all forms of repression and intimidation of his family, including freeing Liu Xia from extralegal house arrest.”
Regrettably, Biden did not make public mention of this vicious example of China’s human rights violations.
Both Obama and Biden are second-rate politicians. They see the business opportunities in the Chinese market, but they do not see the trap lurking in the background. They merely see Xi’s smile, but forget that he is a dictator who hides a knife behind his smile.
Back in 1987, then-US president Ronald Reagan challenged then-Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall during a speech in front of the wall, saying:
“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
How brave and determined Reagan was.
As Reagan’s speechwriter Peter Robinson once recalled some years later, the speech was fundamentally a moral call, a moral challenge to Gorbachev. It was a call Reagan explicitly insisted on making, rejecting the opposition of the US Department of State and the National Security Council (NSC).
Robinson also said that all the career diplomats at the state department and the NSC had a good education and had been given the best training, but that throughout their professional careers, they learned to follow the rules and conventions, forgetting the confrontation between justice and injustice and between freedom and authoritarianism.
He added that viewing an issue from a moral perspective made them uncomfortable, because it clashed with their mode of thinking.
When Reagan urged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, he said something that the general public dared not say or even think. His remarks triggered the public’s imagination and their thirst for freedom and democracy.
We can only hope that a great statesman with Reagan’s vision, wisdom and courage will appear in the US. We must not forget that a tyrant is not a friend.
Yu Jie is an exiled Chinese author in the US.
Translated by Eddy Chang