In his disappointing debut in Shanghai, China, President Obama made every effort to avoid offending those who practice an offensive system that actively represses dissent. Now, as the president visits Beijing, it is even more important that he strongly assert the importance of adhering to the universal principles essential to an open, civil society.

This next stop offers a critical opportunity to convey in resolute fashion that, in addition to American security interests and a policy of free trade, individual liberty, equality, and the rule of law are fundamental freedoms that Americans want to see promoted in Asia broadly, and specifically in China. This is not an American cultural preference, but is an eternal truth applicable to all societies.

Leadership often requires one to say things that may cause discomfort. But 400 Chinese – many of whom are presently in China – recently found the courage to do so in a recent letter to President Obama requesting that he “…unequivocally re-state America’s human rights policy to the Chinese leaders, as well as to the Chinese people, during your November visit, and emphasize that continued improvement of US-China relations depends on China’s progress on human rights…”

The need for the president to do so is further explained:

U.S. advocacy for human rights has been critical to the advancement of freedom around the world, including China. Abandonment of this cornerstone of U.S. engagement will not only continue to damage America’s reputation, but, more importantly, it will demoralize the millions of Chinese who are fighting daily for their basic rights and freedom. It can also jeopardize the chances for China’s peaceful transition to democracy, resulting in long-term strategic problems for the United States and increasing domestic instability in China. We stand wholeheartedly behind engagement with China, but it must be principled engagement, firmly rooted in universal values.

Bob Fu, President of China Aid, stopped by The Heritage Foundation recently and weighed in on his hopes that President Obama will be direct with his counterparts in Beijing. In this video, Mr. Fu reminds President Obama that “these basic freedoms and protection of human rights are the fundamental foundation of society.”