WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2013, (Heritage Foundation) - The Heritage Foundation had the honor of hosting noted Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on January 30. He made several observations regarding the state of human rights in China.

In Washington to accept an award from the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, Chen then visited The Heritage Foundation which, along with most Americans, strongly supports the cause of freedom in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Chen repeatedly emphasized the importance of the United States speaking out in support of personal liberty, noting that such moves were major morale boosters for dissidents in China, and they also helped limit mistreatment, as it put the Beijing government on notice that their actions were being watched.

He also suggested that faith in the Chinese government was eroding. He noted, for example, that reports from the U.S. embassy on air pollution in Beijing were seen as far more credible than those released by the Chinese central government. Measures in controlling the people that might have worked during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, including repetitive propaganda, worked far less well in today’s PRC.

In this regard, Chen’s optimism for the future was quite striking. He consistently expressed the belief that the Chinese people were becoming ever more aware of the Chinese government’s credibility gap, and he emphasized the importance of providing better information to the Chinese people, who want access to the truth.

Chen’s observations about the current situation in China provided an interesting contrast in thinking about the world’s second largest economy. While China’s urban populations have benefited from increased trade and economic activity, Chen suggested that the rural population has enjoyed far less improvement in their daily lives.

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All of which, he suggested, would make 2018 a key year in China’s future. Given the age of the incoming Politburo Standing Committee, there will be wholesale turnover at the next Party Congress. Change may be forced upon Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang whether they are prepared for it or not. Given what he believes to be growing political consciousness and dissatisfaction among the Chinese populace, 2018 is likely to be a watershed year.

By continuing to stand by the courage of our convictions, and supporting the courage of people like Chen, the U.S. can help shape what the future means for the laobaixing—the average citizens of China.

This article originally appeared at The Heritage Foundation and is reprinted with permission.