Twenty-five years ago, mere weeks after the Chinese military violently ended a pro-democracy demonstration at Tiananmen Square, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft traveled to Beijing to toast the very leaders who ordered the massacre. In diplomatic affairs, and especially in an image-conscious society such as China, the visual matters. Scowcroft’s overture sent the wrong signal to the Chinese — of business as usual. There would be no real costs to the Beijing government’s brutal violation of human rights.
We took the wrong approach with China then and, as an embattled President Obama undertakes a pivotal trip to China this week, it would be a mistake to repeat that approach. Indeed, Obama could have one last chance to recalibrate relations with the Middle Kingdom to one that is more to America’s advantage.
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