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Was Obama Soft on China?

The Washington Post editorial page--which takes a hard line on Obama's pronounced realism--thinks so:

Mr. Obama didn't shrink from discussing democracy and human rights. He said "America will always speak out" for its "core principles," and nudged his Chinese audience to consider the advantages of free expression. But the president cast this fundamental difference between the United States and China as that one can be overcome by "cultivating spheres of cooperation." The notion that China would need to embrace democratic values in order to become a true American partner was missing from Mr. Obama's pitch. "My hope is that the United States and China together can help to create international norms that reduce conflict around the world," he said.

It's necessary and right that Mr. Obama pragmatically seek Chinese cooperation. But it's also important to remember that its government, which continues to suppress, sometimes brutally, freedom of expression, religious practice and minority rights, will never be much help in confronting other undemocratic regimes. Nor is it likely -- or even desirable -- that the United States and China will agree on new "international norms," since Beijing will not support any that flow from democratic principles. The United States has no choice but to recognize China's rise as a great power, and Mr. Obama may be right that a policy of containment would be counterproductive. But "welcome" a dictatorship to global influence? It's hard to see why that is a necessary or sensible stance for the U.S. president.