The diplomatic hurricane over dissident Chen Guangcheng will impact Sino-American relations for years, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs to back his request for asylum.
The blind Chinese activist, technically, broke no law when he slipped away from authorities last week in rural Shandong province to seek protection at the United States Embassy in Beijing. His opposition to forced abortions and sterilizations should be celebrated by anyone who supports basic human rights.
Chen has been blind since early childhood, and is referred to as the "barefoot lawyer" for his selfless commitment to the underprivileged.
The annual talks this week were intended to center around trade matters, but Chen's surprise escape throws a wrench into Clinton's otherwise perfunctory trip. The blind dissident had been under "house arrest" for about 20 months following a four-year prison sentence.
If America provides political asylum, it will create bad blood between the two nations, but the U.S. shouldn't show its typical obsequiousness toward the Asian power.
Not only should the U.S. grant asylum, in fact, but Clinton should demand protection for Chen's family still in China. The activist isn't necessarily seeking to flee his country, but it would too risky for him to remain.