On Saturday night, blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in Newark, N.J., after escaping seven years of persecution in China. With the sweet land of liberty under his feet, Chen breathed the free air and remarked, “We should link our arms to continue in the fight for the goodness in the world and to fight against injustice.” Chen’s newfound freedom is a cause for celebration, but it is also a reminder that America must continue to be a force for liberty in the world, whether on the other side of the world or 90 miles off the shores of Florida.

A 40-year-old self-taught lawyer, Chen was imprisoned for four years, placed under house arrest and suffered beatings after voicing opposition to communist China’s one-child policy, which brings with it government-forced abortions, coerced sterilizations, and fines or physical abuse for neighbors and family members of women with unauthorized pregnancies. Last month, he escaped the grip of Chinese authorities and found refuge in the U.S. Embassy. After a series of negotiations, Chen and his immediate family won their freedom — he is now a legal fellow at New York University Law School.

Chen’s case brings to light the reality of modern-day China — a country that has been radically transformed over the last 30 years thanks to economic development. But as much as the country has changed, much remains the same. Heritage’s Walter Lohman explains:

China is a place that has not changed since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when it comes to respect for the fundamental rights of its people. This is sometimes hard for the diplomats, scholars, businessmen, and tourists who spend time there to believe. Likewise, there are many privileged, worldly Chinese who fail to see it.

The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian, yes, ‘communist’ nation. This China is Chen’s day-to-day reality. And it is a brutal reality for many hundreds of millions more. U.S.-China relations will never be normal as long as the Chinese regime is what it is.

Chen sees the Chinese government for the authoritarian beast that it is, and he has won international acclaim for his activism. “I am not a hero,” he said. “I’m just doing what my conscience asks me to do. I cannot be silent when facing these evils against women and children.” The United States should not be silent, either.

China, though, is not the only communist government standing in the way of freedom. Just off the Florida Keys, the Castro regime continues to hold an iron grip on the Cuban people. Yesterday marked the 110th year of Cuba’s independence, but sadly 53 of those years have been spent under the Castros’ dictatorship. Political opposition is not tolerated, those who stand against the regime are harassed and persecuted, all forms of media and communications are under government control, and freedoms of speech and association are suppressed.

There is hope for Cuba. In a new paper, Heritage’s Ray Walser writes that the Castro regime is on the verge of extinction but is working to ensure the country’s communist system continues. He advises that the United States should stand for freedom and press for genuine democracy in Cuba. That means not appeasing the dictatorial regime, backing genuine economic transformation, challenging Cuba’s information blockade, and establishing clear yardsticks for democratic change, including independent political parties, free and fair elections, freedom of information, expression, and association, and respect for human rights.

“Failure to stand with the advocates of genuine economic and political change in Cuba and to press for a policy of true transition and genuine democracy could condemn yet another generation of Cubans to lives without freedom, opportunity, or hope,” Walser writes. Indeed, the United States can be a powerful force for freedom — whether it’s for one Chinese activist standing up in a country of one billion, or if it’s for one tiny island surrounded by a vast ocean. But America must choose to stand up for the light of liberty, not turn away from the darkness.

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