When considering the ongoing questions of what policies to adopt toward China, and whether Taiwan and eventually the entire Pacific Rim would be worth defending against Chinese aggression, policymakers should keep in mind an absolutely chilling feature story that ran in The Wall Street Journal last week.

To avoid any misimpression of some ideological animus, let's be clear: The story ran not on the Journal's conservative editorial pages, but on its oft-liberal news pages - in this case, at the top of Page One.

No decent human being could read the story and not despise the communist regime that runs China. No reasonable person could read it and not understand why China's expansionist aims should be thwarted.

The story tells of the arrest, imprisonment, torture and death of Chen Zixiu, a 58-year-old Chinese grandmother recently retired from working in an auto-parts factory. The only crime committed by Ms. Chen - a moderately literate, apolitical, ordinary citizen - was to have joined the peaceful, quasi-religious movement known as Falun Gong.

Falun Gong requires daily meditations and exercises, and its members read the idiosyncratic works of movement founder Li Hongzhi, which combine a belief in basic moral practices - such as doing good works and speaking honestly - with some seemingly odd but harmless notions of a kind of afterlife and of the existence of extraterrestrial life. It bears repeating that Falun Gong is an entirely non-violent and apolitical movement. All its practitioners want is to be left to their meditations.

But the Chinese government, angered that Falun Gong adherents refuse to renounce what the government considers to be a cult, have cracked down on its members with a brutality almost beyond belief.

When Ms. Chen refused to give up her membership, she was arrested. Then she was carted off to a jail with unheated rooms. Then she was beaten with plastic truncheons on her calves, a cattle prod on her head and neck, and an electric "stun stick" on her back - and then forced the next morning to run barefoot in the snow.

Unable to run, she collapsed, vomited blood, went into a delirium and then, finally, died.

Her story is like those of thousands of others in a movement that, despite the state's brutality, refuses to go underground (that would require dishonesty) and continues to grow.

China's vicious repression shocks the conscience. It should give serious pause to anybody who has said that China has a right to dominate Taiwan, or to extend its influence throughout Asia.

Opposition to such repression should inform all American diplomacy in the region, and reinforce our commitment to, and our strategic interests in, defending Taiwan from any Chinese invasion.

(c) 2000 Mobile Register. Used with permission.