On Wednesday morning, Beijing time -- Tuesday evening EST -- Liu Xiaobo, the writer and activist, will be put on trial for "inciting state subversion." The trial date was announced last weekend and the timing is not accidental. Many top envoys from democratic countries are away observing the Christmas holiday. While some governments including the U.S. have asked to send observers to the trial, these requests are routinely denied, just as the request to free Liu has been. Ding Zilin, head of the Tiananmen Mothers group, also a signer of Charter 08, has called on her fellow signers of the Charter to assemble at the court house in support of Liu. Many of the best known Chartists have already been warned not to attend, and put under surveillance. In a small gesture, friends and supporters of Liu Xiaobo will gather at the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m., at the same time that Liu will be brought to trial.
Also in the past few days, 20 Uighurs seeking asylum in Cambodia were repatriated to China. Cambodia acquiesced to Beijing's pressure and the offer of $1.2 billion in economic aid, rather than live up to its obligations under international law. A statement released by the State Department said "this incident will affect Cambodia's relationship with the U.S." What about the U.S.'s relationship with China, which has been pursuing Uighurs abroad and pressuring countries to repatriate them, not just from Cambodia?
At least here, with respect to Cambodia, the administration has committed itself. The Obama administration has said little publicly about Liu Xiaobo generally and nothing since the trial date was announced. Liu's name was put on a list of human rights activists and dissidents given to Chinese officials during President Obama's recent visit to China. This "quiet diplomacy" has built in limitations. It protects America from committing itself to a result, which, if not met, would require consequences. The administration is immune to pressure, self-imposed or otherwise, to achieve success. It seems unlikely that Liu's continued imprisonment and Hu Jia's and Chen Guangcheng's and the others' will have consequences U.S. relations with China. This is the meaning of "engagement."