Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticized the Obama administration’s handling of a diplomatic dispute with China, saying it failed to protect Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.
Romney said today missteps by U.S. diplomats led the blind human rights lawyer to leave the American embassy in Beijing, putting him in danger of retribution from Chinese authorities.
“If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration,” Romney said during a campaigning appearance in Portsmouth, Virginia. “We should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack.”
Chen fled to the U.S. embassy last week, escaping more than four years of house arrest by the Chinese government for his stand against forced sterilizations.
U.S. officials, defending their handling of the situation, said he embraced a deal with the Chinese government to let him remain in the country with his family. In a subsequent phone call from his hospital bed, Chen said he wants to leave China as soon as possible, journalist Melinda Liu wrote on the Daily Beast website today.
Chen’s reversal thrust the administration into the type of diplomatic crisis officials wanted to avoid during annual U.S.- China strategic and economic conference meetings attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in Beijing this week.
“It is clear now that now in the last 12 to 15 hours they as a family have had a change of heart about whether they want to stay in China,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, referring to Chen and his family.
Romney accused the administration of pressuring Chen to make a decision in order to “move on” to the talks and failing to put in “verifiable measures” to assure his safety.
Chen’s case, which initially seemed like a foreign policy success for the administration, now could hurt President Barack Obama politically, said Kerry Brown, a former U.K. diplomat in China and head of the Asia program at London-based Chatham House.
“It just looks very confusing -- it looks like they took one position and then another,” Brown said in a phone interview. “It plays into Romney’s hands.”
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