The Blog


11:00 PM, Feb 23, 1997 • By GARY L. BAUER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

RECALL AN ARRESTING IMAGE watched by all the world: that young Chinese student standing alone against a column of tanks in Beijing. As the lead tank attempted to go around him, the fearless young man dodged to the side to head it off. The standoff, which seemed to last forever, was perhaps the most dramatic moment of the clash between the student democracy movement and the ruling Chinese Communist party. That clash ended in blood as nearly 700 students were massacred in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. That brave young man has long since been presumed dead. It speaks volumes about China -- and about us in the West -- that we do not know for sure.

It did not take long for the U.S. foreign policy elite to rush to China to reassure her aging dictators that we were not responsible for student protests that had almost toppled their rickety regime. Then-national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and undersecretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger were sent on a high-level, secret mission to Beijing. They toasted the men who gave the orders to fire.

In 1992, Bill Clinton denounced President Bush for coddling China's dictators, but as president, Clinton famously "de-linked" China's most- favored-nation trading status from China's performance in human rights. What Clinton and Bush have in common is their mutual disdain for the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan. Reagan understood that American foreign policy must be consistent with American principles. Respect for human rights is not just a matter of Western style, like eating with knives and forks or wearing business suits. Reagan understood that when a regime crushes its domestic opponents, as China does; when it suppresses the Catholic church and jails evangelical pastors, as China does; when it beats and tortures its own people, as China does; or subjects them to a massive campaign of forced abortions, as China does, it is unlikely to be a stable partner in international trade or a force for world peace.

Advocates of realpolitik often dismiss a foreign policy based on principle as idealistic and unrealistic, but as long ago as 1976, Ronald Reagan was making it clear that in foreign policy, principle is realism.

At the Republican National Convention, where Reagan narrowly lost the presidential nomination to Gerald Ford, the Reagan delegates successfully forced a plank into the party platform that commended "that great beacon of human courage and morality, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for his compelling message that we must face the world with no illusions about the nature of tyranny. . . . Ours will be a foreign policy that keeps this forever in mind." Solzhenitsyn, it is worth recalling, was not invited to the Ford White House because Henry Kissinger feared his presence would be too upsetting in the age of detente. The Reagan forces were outraged by that capitulation and successfully gained the Republican party's adherence to a foreign policy " based upon our deep belief in the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the hand of God."

This was not just political boilerplate. Reagan understood that resistance to the U.S.S.R.'s global ambitions gave America the best chance of bringing about real change in Moscow. And his vision proved to be not only moral but practical as well. A generation of Republican foreign policy experts Kissinger primary among them, had merely managed the crisis in U.S.-Soviet relations. Without the Reagan vision of liberty, without his famous resolve, we would be managing our relations with Soviet totalitarianism to this day.

That is exactly what we are doing in China now. Beijing's conduct has become more menacing rather than more reassuring as a result of the weak Western response to its violations of the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the hand of God. The rulers in Beijing seem to think that there is nothing they can do that will result in sanctions from the industrial democracies. China's leaders have exported weapons and nuclear technology to Middle Eastern states that are either bent on terrorism or determined to develop an "Islamic bomb." China has intimidated its neighbors, and it has has been linked to international drug trafficking.