Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am honored to speak at this Truman-Reagan Freedom dinner.
Let me first congratulate Chen Guangcheng, my hero and my hometown fellow. The Truman-Reagan Freedom Medal awarded to Chen Guangcheng is deserved and timely. Recent news reports attributed Beijing’s relaxation of “One Child Policy” to demographic calculations. True. But world condemnation of that brutal practice was also a factor. Chen Guangcheng courageously challenged that policy in defending its victims. Worldwide publicity about his persecution and brave escape added to the embarrassing exposure of the policy. And now, even at the expense of hardship to his relatives in China, Chen Guangcheng continues to be a powerful voice insisting that China’s human rights abuse should not be overlooked.
I greatly admire how the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s defense of freedom has far exceeded the expectations of its congressional creators.
Under Chairman Edwards’ inspired leadership, the Foundation has vividly documented the horrors Communism inflicted, and reminded Washington, and indeed the world, of that that nightmare must not be repeated. It is critical because, as Harvard philosopher Santayana warned us: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Today the Foundation is also a vital part of the coalition supporting the victims of Communist China’s current human rights abuse. Director Marion Smith’s dynamic energy helps keep the Foundation at the center of every aspect of that effort.
The China Forum the Foundation is hosting is the second event this week where I have witnessed both the bonds that unite everyone devoted to liberty and the growing focus on it’s repression in China. I just returned a couple of hours ago from the World Movement for Democracy conference in Seoul, Korea. There, Beijing’s denial of fundamental freedoms was held up as a leading example of the current worldwide resurgence or continuation of authoritarianism. So despite Xi Jinping’s constant propaganda and efforts to downplay or sidetrack world attention from his war on liberty, the whole world is still watching, and, more important, acting.
At the Seoul conference, participants, from autocracies as well as democracies, all recognized that the reluctance and inaction on the part of the US and other major democracies to confront the world’s dictators on human rights issues have emboldened the recent worldwide democracy recession, and that that reluctance and inaction have in turn harmed the global security and national interests of these various democracies. The participants committed to striving, through grass roots efforts of civil societies and academia as well as legislation and policy making processes, to turn this situation around. Among many other action recommendations, I made a proposal which I would like to repeat tonight and respectfully ask you to consider.
I propose to build on the authoritative Freedom House Index of Freedom in the World which rates countries on their upholding political rights and civil liberties for their citizens. Published annually since 1972, the survey ratings, and their explanations, have been used by policymakers, the media, international corporations, civic activists, and human rights defenders to monitor trends in democracy and track improvements and setbacks in freedom worldwide.
I propose that we all urge Freedom House to produce a second, parallel rating system, this time of the world’s real democracies. The index could be called the “Freedom House Index of Nations’ Effort to Promote Freedom in the World”. The index would rank countries on the basis of what efforts they make to help promote political rights and civil liberties in other nations – especially in the most flagrant abusers of those rights and liberties like China.
This may seem like a small step. To paraphrase a famous astronaut, if we could realize this proposal, I believe we would indeed be taking “ a giant step forward toward freedom for all mankind.”