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The Great Obama Kowtow

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Wikipedia defines "kowtow" as "kneeling and bowing so low as to have one's head touching the ground. ... (Chinese history scholar) Immanuel (Hsu) describes the 'full kowtow' as 'three kneelings and nine knockings of the head on the ground.'" Wikipedia adds that, "In modern times, usage of the kowtow has become much reduced."

Have they been watching the Obama administration?

This week, the U.S. welcomed Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping -- widely assumed to be the next leader of the Communist Party, the army and accordingly, of China. Xi will officially take power in the autumn of this year, just about the time that we have a free election to determine our next leader.

There were the usual brass bands and honor guards to welcome the next Chinese strongman. Xi lunched with Vice President Biden and posed for pictures in the Oval Office with President Obama.

But the Obama administration offered more than flag-snapping visuals to ingratiate itself with Xi. It sacrificed American principles.

As the Washington Post reported, Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, had been scheduled to travel to China on Feb. 8. Her planned visit ran into trouble when Chinese officials declined her requests for meetings. They then cited the paucity of meetings on her calendar as the reason to deny her a visa.

The Chinese have much to hide from an ambassador for religious freedom. On Feb. 13, as Xi was heading to the U.S., a 19-year-old Tibetan monk set himself ablaze in Aba County to protest the persecution of his faith by China. His is the 24th self-immolation in the past 11 months. The Chinese regime has responded to the Tibetans' protests with even more brutal repression than usual. Ngawang Sandrol, a Tibetan nun, suffered torture in jail for secretly recording songs about the Dalai Lama. Chinese troops patrol every block in Tibet and neighboring provinces where exiled Tibetans live.

Dissidents, including Muslim, Christian and Buddhist human rights advocates, have recently received long prison sentences. Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer who attempts to take the Chinese constitution's guarantees of religious liberty seriously, has been repeatedly imprisoned and tortured.

In December, a group of Uighurs was attacked while attempting to escape China across the western border. Seven were killed; several others, including five children, have been indefinitely detained. The government claims that the Uighurs were "resisting arrest."

The Chinese have long attempted to thwart U.S. and international support for religious minorities and other freedom-seeking people inside China. But denying a visa to a U.S. ambassador is a rare display of contempt.

How did the Obama administration respond? According to the Post, Cook and her staff were advised by "superiors in the Obama administration to avoid talking publicly about her canceled trip in the days before Xi's visit."

So the Chinese kick sand in America's face and the Obama administration is at pains to cover up for them?

In another signal of American meekness on human rights and religious liberty, the administration hosted a meeting on human rights the week before Xi's visit. Absent were representatives of the Uighurs, Tibetans or Chinese Christians. As Ellen Bork of the Foreign Policy Initiative noted, "Their reception in the White House would have sent a powerful signal of solidarity to the people of China, and especially human rights and democracy activists. We know from former political prisoners that such news has an impact, boosting their morale as well as improving their treatment."

Is it surprising that the Chinese disdain this White House?

In the course of his meeting with Xi, Vice President Biden made only the most anodyne and glancing references to human rights and religious persecution in China. As they clinked champagne flutes, Biden offered that he had mentioned the plight of "several very prominent individuals" to the Chinese leader and pronounced himself "appreciative" of Xi's response.

That is feeble. The greatest asset that the U.S. possesses in international relations is moral prestige. Whether they like us or not, the nations of the world acknowledge, sometimes only implicitly, that our democracy is genuine and our commitment to human freedom unmatched. Our capacity to confer legitimacy upon others is also unique. By kowtowing to China, the Obama administration has squandered that precious asset.

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