Today is one of those days that reminds me why I still have a subscription to the dead tree version of my local newspaper, the Washington Post. The reason: an interesting front-page story by long-time China hand John Pomfret on China's increasingly effective lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill (the Pomfret piece, if anything underplays the growing Chinese presence -- and effectiveness -- on the Hill, especially because it does not get at the various "fronts" the Chinese use as force multipliers), juxtaposed with a column on the op-ed page that reprinted the letter by Vaclav Havel and other former Czech dissident leaders to Chinese President Hu Jintao, protesting the outrageous imprisonment of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who on Christmas Eve was sentenced to 11 years in a Chinese gulag for circulating an on-line petition calling for freedom and democracy.

The powerful letter from the former Czech dissidents stands as a stunning rebuke not only to the kind of legitimacy that China has been trying to buy through fat lobbying contracts with the likes of Patton Boggs, but also to those US legislators who could be influenced to support China's authoritarians. To whit:

We strongly believe, and we dare to remind you and your Government, that there is nothing subversive to state security when intellectuals, artists, writers and academics exercise their core vocation: to think, re-think, ask questions, criticize, act creatively, and try to initiate open dialogue. On the contrary, the present and future well-being of a society is undermined when governments suppress intellectual debate.

There is nothing subversive to state security or damaging to future prosperity when citizens act guided by their own will and according to their best knowledge and conscience, when they associate among themselves to discuss and express peacefully their concerns and visions about the future development of their society.

On the contrary, a country's material and spiritual future is undermined when its citizens are not allowed to act, associate, think and speak freely.

This is why we call upon you and your Government to secure a fair and genuinely open trial for Liu Xiaobo when the court hears his appeal.

We are also asking you and your Government to end the house arrests and police surveillance which have been imposed on other Charter 08 signatories. We call upon you and your Government to end the criminalization of free speech and to release all prisoners of conscience.

Mr. President, we would like you to know that we will continue to watch carefully the treatment of Mr. Liu Xiaobo and other signatories of Charter 08. We will, together with many of our colleagues from the Czech Republic and Slovakia who signed the original Charter 77, make continued and sustained efforts to draw international attention to their plight.

In its chapeau to the letter, the Post noted that Havel and company were turned away from the Chinese embassy in Prague when they attempted to hand deliver their letter to the Chinese ambassador there. Havel, incidentally, is the former president of the Czech Republic. I understand that the George W. Bush Institute is planning conference on cyber-dissidents this coming May. Wouldn't it be amazing if, as part of this conference, President Bush and the other living former presidents got together and sent their own letter to Hu Jintao calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo? And if this came to pass, I wonder if the Chinese embassy would have the nerve to turn those guys away at the gate?

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