Last weekend, Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in New York City with his wife and children to begin a new life in the United States.
Chen is a blind, self-taught lawyer who served four years in prison and remained under house arrest upon his release for reporting abuses by government officials who forced women to obtain abortions and sterilizations against their will in the Sandong Province of China.
After a month of turmoil in US-Sino relations that arose from Chen's nighttime escape and flight to the US embassy in Beijing, the Chinese allowed Chen to depart into self-imposed exile to become a law student at New York University.
Chen's release was not a defeat for the Chinese. They routinely allow dissidents to exit the country, where they are rendered less effective against the communist dictatorship.
Speaking to supporters Saturday night gathered outside a temporary residence in NYC, Chen told them that Americans needed to stay engaged in the fight against human rights abuses worldwide:
"We should link our arms and continue in the fight for the goodness of the world and to fight against injustice," said Chen.
The initial slipshod handling of Chen's case by the Obama Administration and the State Department's abhorrent balancing of America's traditional, unabated commitment as the torchbearer of international human rights activities against opposing economic and political considerations of Chinese interests (the Washington Post termed it a "dance of diplomacy") highlights the need for a serious discussion during Election 2012 of the Obama Administration's human rights policies.
Overall, the Obama Administration has shown a lack of enthusiasm to engage human rights issues around the world and has a mixed, if not poor, record of supporting pro-democracy dissidents such as Chen.
In the Middle East, while committing US airpower to help dislodge Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power and encouraging an orderly transition of power during the Arab Spring last year in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama failed to support similar regime-changing efforts during a failed Iranian Spring early on in his term, actually supported the suppression of a rebellion arising from human rights abuses in Bahrain in 2011 and has refused to make a military commitment in Syria as to stop the regime from killing thousands of its civilians, as we did in oil-rich Libya.
Elsewhere, the administration has failed to support and encourage efforts of pro-democracy elements in Russia opposing a clamp down on human rights by Prime Minister Putin and until Chen's escape, has not assisted in any meaningful way the activities of Chinese pro-democracy activists.
The only reason the State Department advocated for Chen is that it had no choice once he landed on the US Embassy's doorstep -- particularly when he subsequently placed a direct call to Congress asking for help to leave the country after he left the embassy days later.
So far, the Chen episode has played very briefly on the presidential campaign circuit.
That's too bad, because this incident highlighted the need for some talk during this election cycle about America's continued commitment to human rights activists around the world.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney initially showed strong support for the release of Chen, but has remained silent after criticizing the administration's release of Chen from the embassy.
Chen's taking asylum in the US now presents Romney with an opportunity to highlight his support for Chen's work and to oppose the current diminished American commitment toward human rights struggles around the world.
If he were smart, Romney would go to New York City and welcome Chen to the US. He should link arms with him near his new home under the Washington Square Arch, which commemorates our first president's first inauguration into office and America's embrace of the ideals of human rights and democracy.
The president has also been pretty quiet about Chen, too -- and he's certainly not celebrating a human rights victory.
Surely, in terms of the Obama administration's lackluster dedication to human rights and continued deference to the Communist Chinese, you can be sure that Chen won't be a guest at the White House anytime soon.
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