Politicians, more than most people, need to worry about public image. It’s their job. In a democratic system, few voters know a candidate personally. The public image is what attracts or repels them. In his dealings with China, George H.W. Bush did what he could to protect his image—but paid a very high price for it ethically.
In late February 1989, a month after becoming president, Bush visited Beijing and invited roughly 500 people to a “Texas barbecue” at a posh Beijing hotel. The invitees included Fang Lizhi, the famous astrophysicist and political dissident. He was suggested by the U.S. Embassy as a gesture of support for human rights. In two messages to Washington, the embassy noted his controversial nature. The White House and State Department cleared the guest list, including Fang.