The visit of the Dalai Lama to Madison offers a reminder that U.S. policy toward China has played a critical role in strengthening the regime that oppresses the people of Tibet.
Nepalese police officers detain Tibetan exiles shouting anti-Chinese government slogans during a protest in front of Chinese embassy in Katmandu, Nepal, Friday. (AP)
When Congress extended permanent most-favored-nation trading status to China eight years ago, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, were among the leading critics of the move not just in the Wisconsin delegation but in the Congress.
Feingold and Baldwin both rejected pressure from the administration of former President Bill Clinton, whose passion for advancing free-trade deals was almost equal to that of the current President Bush.
The ability of the United States to pressure China on human rights issues was severely undermined by the enactment of the trade deal with China. The weakness of the U.S. position was on full display this spring, when China violently cracked down on dissent in Tibet.
The crackdown was part of the run-up to the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
And it was shameful.
As Baldwin explains, "I am very concerned about the ongoing oppression of the Tibetan people by the Chinese government. Chinese human rights abuses are well documented. The most recent U.S. human rights report finds that China's 'record of respect for religious freedom in Tibet (has) deteriorated,' political dissent is 'not tolerated at any time,' and dissent is 'promptly and forcibly suppressed.' A recent Amnesty International report found that torture is used routinely. It is clear to me that Chinese actions in Tibet violate international standards of human rights. The United States must pressure China to respect the autonomy of Tibet and end its crackdown on religious expression."
Unfortunately, while the reality on the ground in Tibet is clear to Baldwin, it is not clear to George Bush.
The president, relinquishing one of the few remaining tools he had to pressure China on human rights issues, has announced that he will attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics next month. Several members of Congress are likely to accompany him.
But Russ Feingold and Tammy Baldwin won't be among those who are lending legitimacy to the brutality of the Chinese government.
These visionary leaders will continue to do the right thing when it comes to human rights and the related issue of trade policy.
Other members of the Wisconsin delegation would be wise to follow the lead of Feingold and Baldwin. The senator from Middleton and the congresswoman from Madison recognize that it is not just possible but necessary for the United States to stand up for human rights -- in Tibet, in China and around the world.