Mitt Romney assailed the Obama administration for its handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng's attempted defection, building on his stance that Obama has not pressed China enough on human rights abuses.
Chen, a prominent dissident lawyer, touched off an international incident last week when he fled house arrest and sought asylum at the American embassy in Beijing. The United States and China have since reached an agreement under which Chen is to reside in a Chinese university town, where American diplomats regularly check in to ensure his safety.
But Chen has said his preference was to leave China, and Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, blasted Obama for not being more aggressive. If reports about the situation are true, Romney said, " this is a dark day for freedom."
"It's a day of shame for the Obama administration," Romney said in reference to allegations that the State Department exerted pressure to have Chen leave the embassy. "We should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack."
Chen has insisted otherwise, telling the Washington Post that he left the embassy of his own volition.
"I wasn't tricked into leaving," Chen told the Post. "If I didn't want to leave, I could have stayed, and no one would have forced me to leave." But Chen added that he was skeptical that the Chinese government would fulfil the reported terms of the agreement, including allowing him regular access to U.S. officials.
Romney has attacked Obama's record on China before, writing in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that the president has acted as a "near supplicant to Beijing, almost begging it to continue buying American debt."
"His administration demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even 'the global climate-change crisis.' Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia," Romney wrote.
That fits into Romney's overarching attempt to depict Obama as overly conciliatory towards rival nations. He has said Obama's foreign policy is tantamount to saying "pretty please", originally a reference to Obama's response to a fallen U.S. drone recovered by Iran; charged that the president has not done enough to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions; and accused Obama of undermining his generals by leaving Afghanistan too hastily.
Obama parried a question about Guangcheng during a press conference this week, but he said that the issue of human rights comes up in every round of talks with China and suggested that China could build on economic ties by abiding by international human rights norms.
"Not only is it that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and belief in freedom and human rights but also because we think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its systems," Obama said during a press conference announcing a new military pact with Japan. "We want China to be strong and we want China to be prosperous."
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