By Steve Holland
PORTSMOUTH, Va. May 3 Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney slammed the Obama administration on
Thursday for its handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's
case, calling it "a day of shame."
The blind dissident is under Chinese control in a Beijing
hospital after taking refuge in the U.S. Embassy and then
leaving it in a deal between the Chinese and U.S. governments.
Chen originally appeared to approve of the agreement, but
now says he fears for his and his family's safety if he stays in
China under the arrangement, which Washington had called a good
outcome for the dissident.
At a campaign event in Virginia, Romney suggested the Obama
administration may have convinced Chen to leave the embassy to
try to curry favor with the 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," he said.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said the
U.S. Embassy may have "failed to put in place the kind of
verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Mr. Chen and
Romney has taken a hard line on China as he catches up with
President Barack Obama in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 6
He has threatened trade sanctions against the world's No. 2
economy if it does not halt what he says are currency
manipulation, unfair subsidies and rampant intellectual property
Only days after Obama scored points against Romney on the
first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Chen
case has given the Republican a chance to accuse his rival of
showing weakness abroad.
"We are a place of freedom here and around the world and we
should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack,"
Romney's comments were unusually direct given that U.S.
Cabinet members are in Beijing right now to try to secure
Chinese cooperation on trade and flashpoints such as North
Korea, Iran and Syria.
Chen's appeal on Thursday for asylum in the United States
fanned U.S.-China tensions and threw into doubt the agreement
used to coax him out of hiding in the embassy
Romney said there were reports that Washington communicated
to Chen an implicit threat to his family and perhaps sped up his
decision to leave the embassy "because they wanted to move on to
a series of discussions that (Treasury Secretary Timothy)
Geithner and our Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) are
planning on having with China."
The White House denied that the U.S. Embassy coaxed Chen to
leave so as to avoid conflict between Washington and Beijing,
where Clinton and Geithner are to hold talks on Friday.
"There was no pressure of any kind placed on him by U.S.
officials," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"At no point during his time in the embassy did Mr. Chen
ever request political asylum in the U.S. And at every
opportunity, he expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify
with this family, continue his education and work for reform in
his country," Carney said.