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Biden must stand firm on human rights

President Biden, right, during a videoconference with Russia's

President Biden, right, during a videoconference with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, far left, issued threats of tougher fiscal sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine. Credit: The White House/AFP via Getty Images

Clearly, the domestic challenges facing President Joe Biden and the Congress loom large enough to command full-time attention. They include the pandemic, rising consumer prices, and the drive to brace our infrastructure against climate threats.

But as recent days remind us, our international interests and humanitarian issues overseas still raise concern. Rivalry with Russia and China is far from the existential conflict it became during the Cold War, but there's tricky diplomacy ahead.

Our goals must include not just our trade and strategic interests, but also, relevantly supporting human rights, territorial sovereignty and democracy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has tens of thousands of troops massed at the Ukraine border, signaling to some an invasion may be weeks away. The Moscow regime’s historic view of its neighbor to the southwest has long been one of a jilted property owner, as showed by its 2014 annexation of what was once Crimea.

President Donald Trump projected passive appeasement toward Putin’s ambitions but Biden keeps a tough posture. He's unwilling to commit U.S. troops to defend Ukraine, and rightly so. We don't know what impact his threats of harder fiscal sanctions — as issued Tuesday in his videoconference with Putin — might have. Or will a threatened U.S.-Germany cutoff of the key Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline deter an invasion?

Putin's moves to destabilize Europe will prevent the president from fully focusing on Asia. That distraction might be the reason there are ominous rumbles from the Taiwan Strait where China launched military exercises after denouncing as a "violation" U.S. lawmakers' visit to Taiwan last month.

Both situations feature a big power looking to extend its turf. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. will stand up to an "increasingly assertive and autocratic" China by strengthening regional alliances.

On Monday Biden gave a quick if limited morale boost to Beijing's critics by announcing that U.S. officials won't attend Winter Olympic games there in February. This diplomatic twist doesn't mean American teams will boycott the events; that hasn't happened since the Moscow games in 1980. That was about Afghanistan; this is about abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang region and protester crackdowns in Hong Kong.

Will it matter? Human rights movements don't quickly win. Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has become a feminist dissident by circumstance. On social media last month she accused a former Communist Party bigwig, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, of sexual transgressions. She's been censored and hidden from view since.

For us, the domestic divide in foreign affairs no longer breaks down to hawks versus doves. Any U.S. president now needs to find pragmatic, measured ways to advance what is still the American ideal of freedom and justice for all. We hope Biden and company can meet these tricky tests as the crises simmer.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.