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April 21, 2006 - The sight yesterday morning of Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao being upbraided by a [Falun Gong] protestor at the White House at the outset of his state visit was both shocking and thrilling.

It was shocking because a wild intrusion at a controlled event at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue really isn't welcome.

It was thrilling because the head of a tyrannical government was forced for a moment to hear the voice of freedom - a voice that unmistakably told him in his own language, "Your days are numbered, no more time for China's ruling party."

No one should be under any illusions that the outburst by protestor Wenyi Wang will have long-lasting ramifications. In historical terms, the words spoken by George W. Bush just before she began shouting were far more important because they came from the mouth of the president of the United States.

Bush said he would "continue to discuss with President Hu the importance of respecting human rights and freedoms of the Chinese people. China has become successful because the Chinese people are experiencing the freedom to buy, and to sell, and to produce - and China can grow even more successful by allowing the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to speak freely and to worship." Not the most passionate rhetoric, but it's still important that Bush said it.

If anything, Wenyi Wang's protest backfired. She was speaking on behalf of the suppressed Falun Gong religious movement, whose leaders and followers have been subjected to appalling imprisonments and torture inside China - and her confrontation with Hu probably made it harder for the president to use the visit as a means of appealing to Hu to lighten up on Falun Gong. Instead of devoting the day to such matters, Bush was forced publicly to express regret for the rudeness with which Hu was welcomed.

And yet how can we not feel a thrill at Wenyi Wang's actions?

If Hu is going to come to the West and be treated as a peer by the president of the United States, then he should get all the West has to offer. That includes inconvenient people following him around to remind him and others in the foreign-policy and business communities who want only to suck up to him that Hu is, in fact, the representative of a government that has freed its people only to the extent that it allows them the freedom to work and earn.

China presents a peculiarly difficult challenge for the United States. On the one hand, the government's decision to liberalize its economy offers hope that this most populous nation on earth cannot long remain even partially shackled. On the other hand, it uses its growing economic power to strengthen its hold on its people.

So do we accelerate our business interests in China because, in part, that will accelerate its journey toward liberal democracy? Or are Western businesses inadvertently contributing to the power of the regime?

Do we seek a closer relationship with China? Or do we need to keep more than an arm's length so that we don't serve the interests of a system we want to see replaced as soon as is practicable - replaced because no regime that treats Falun Gong meditation as a crime against the state should survive and thrive?

These are questions that must be asked, and addressed. The great virtue of Wenyi Wang's protest was not only that it caused Hu some discomfort, but that it will provoke Americans to discuss them, and to pay heed to China's crimes even as we welcome China's freer economy.