It is nice that the President is reaching across the aisle for an Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. Foreign policy should be bi-partisan. It is a demonstration to the Chinese that there is more that unites Americans than divides us. The selection of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., a businessman and free trader, will also send a positive signal regarding the central importance of truly free markets in our interaction with the Chinese. Of course, from the President’s perspective, choosing a Republican is probably also an effort to reserve political squabbling for issues more central to his agenda.

But the person is only part of the equation, and not the most important part. What matters most are the principles Ambassador Huntsman packs for the trip.

We’re not talking about the China policy catechism: the three communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). Of course, he’ll virtually be checked at the airport to make sure he has the communiqués with him. He must also give the TRA and, for good measure, Reagan’s 6 assurances a good read. The TRA is the law of the land after all, and Reagan’s interpretation of our obligations is a critical part of U.S. China policy.

But what we’re really talking about is another Reagan-era principle: what countries do is more important than what they say.

It is important to remember as the Tiananmen massacre anniversary approaches that the human rights situation in China has gotten worse, not better, in the ensuing 20 years. China’s economic success and the importance of our economic relationship make this fact inconvenient today, but we can’t wish it away and we can’t abandon our historic obligation to rectify it.

And while we should welcome reduced tensions across the straits, let’s not lose sight of the coercive elements that are involved: China’s uncompromising claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, an aggressive military posture featuring, among other things, more than a thousand missiles aimed at the island, and a relentless effort to shrink Taiwan’s diplomatic space.

Decisions about Taiwan’s relationship with the mainland should be decided by the people of Taiwan free from coercion. It should not be made by the US, and certainly not by the PRC.

The Chinese will come after the TRA and our commitments to Taiwan early and often in Ambassador Huntsman’s tenure. He should be prepared to explain to them the facts of America’s bi-partisan commitment to Taiwan as well as articulate our human rights concerns, ever vigilant that a nation’s actions speak more loudly than its rhetoric.