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Romney on Chen: 'Day of shame' for Obama administration

Mitt Romney discusses the controversy surrounding Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng during a campaign stop in Portsmouth, Va.

 

Updated 3:32 p.m. - Mitt Romney criticized the Obama administration's handling of a diplomatic dispute with China over that country's treatment of dissident Chen Guangcheng.

In a campaign trail appearance in Virginia, Romney suggested that the Obama administration had not acted forcefully enough to ensure the safety of Chen, a blind dissident who escaped house arrest and made it to a U.S. embassy.

"Now just in the last day or two we've heard some disturbing things from across world which suggest potentially if the reports are true some troubling developments there where an individual, Mr. Chen, has sought freedom in an embassy of the United States of America. Aren't we proud of the fact that people seeking freedom come to our embassy to find it?" Romney asked.

He also suggested that the U.S. might have sped up Chen's exit from their embassy to facilitate economic and diplomatic talks this week between the U.S. and China.

"If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom," Romney said. "And it's a day of shame for the Obama administration."

"We are a place for freedom here and around the world and we should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack," he added.

The incident has become a flashpoint in U.S.-China relations, especially in terms of the pressure on the Chinese to improve their human rights record.

Chen had sought refuge at the U.S. embassy, though the administration wouldn't initially acknowledge that detail.

"Obviously, I’m aware of the press reports on the situation in China, but I’m not going to make a statement on the issue," President Obama said Monday at the White House. "What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up. It is our belief that not only is that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and our belief in freedom and human rights, but also because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system."

Chen left the U.S. embassy and went to the hospital seeking treatment for a broken foot. That followed discussions about a deal to resettle in China in exchange for guarantees from the Chinese government about Chen's family's safety.

However, Chen made clear on Thursday that he now wishes to leave China, possibly on the same plane as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently traveling in China.

Romney didn't directly address how he, as president, would handle the situation differently, or whether a Romney administration would allow Chen to travel to the U.S. seeking asylum.

A campaign aide followed up, though: "Gov. Romney is deeply concerned about the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family and believes that Chen would certainly meet the asylum requirement of a “well-founded fear of persecution” had he requested asylum while at the Embassy.  But at this point, it’s not an option, and the Obama administration must redouble efforts to protect him."

The Obama administration has been wary of being seen as publicly pressuring the Chinese government, a nation whose economy and national security strategy is closely attuned to the U.S.