The Cable

China becomes political football in presidential campaign

Vice President Joe Biden's comments on China's one-child policy during his trip to Beijing have sparked a firestorm of GOP criticism of both Biden and the Chinese government, as all the Republicans candidates rush to show their toughness on the issue of Chinese human rights.

"Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I'm not second-guessing -- of one child per family. The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable," said Biden, who appeared to be attempting to make a point about the Chinese social security system rather than make news on the one-child policy, which has been in place in China since 1979.

House Speaker John Boehner was the first GOP leader to come out with strong criticism of Biden's comments, saying he was "deeply troubled" that Biden had not come out stronger against the the one-child policy, "which has resulted in forced sterilizations and coerced abortions and should not be condoned by any American official."

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin quickly received an even more breathless response from the Mitt Romney campaign:

"China's one-child policy is gruesome and barbaric. Vice President Biden's acquiescence to such a policy should shock the conscience of every American. Instead of condoning the policy, Vice President Biden should have condemned it in the strongest possible terms. There can be no defense of a government that engages in compulsory sterilization and forced abortions in the name of population control," Romney said in the statement.

Rubin, a conservative opinion writer, concluded that Romney's statement, "suggests increasing boldness on his part." Then she asked, "And where are the other Republican contenders? Silence so far."

The Cable asked the Rick Perry, John Huntsman, and Michelle Bachmann campaigns for their comments on Biden's remarks.

Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller sent The Cable this response: "As an adoptive father, whose daughter was abandoned by her parents in China, Governor Huntsman is intimately familiar with the impact of China's ‘one-child' policy. As someone who is firmly pro-life, he feels the policy runs counter to the fundamental value of human life and is heartbroken by the destructive nature of the policy that has cost millions of lives."

The Perry campaign released a statement Tuesday afternoon that read, "China's one child policy has led to the great human tragedy of forced abortions throughout China, and Vice President Biden's refusal to ‘second-guess' this horrendous policy demonstrates great moral indifference on the part of the Obama Administration. Americans value life, and we deserve leaders who will stand up against such inhumanity, not cast a blind eye."

Bachmann's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

While the litany of criticism shows that most GOP candidates are more than willing to attack the Obama administration's handling of the U.S.-China relationship, the issue is especially tricky for Huntsman, Obama's former ambassador to Beijing. Huntsman is now trying to distance himself from the China policy he helped implement for almost two years.

In the GOP debate earlier this month, Huntsman declared that there had been a lack of high-level strategic dialogue between the Obama administration and the Chinese government, despite the fact that he attended and even praised the U.S.-China strategic dialogue that the State Department and the Treasury Department's have been leading since 2009.

It's not only Huntsman that has a China problem. In the run-up to the 2008 GOP primary, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney came under fire because his former employer, Bain Capital, had worked on behalf of a Chinese technology firm that was trying to enter the U.S. market. The firm, Huawei Technologies, is widely suspected of having longstanding ties to the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Huntsman Corp, which was founded by Huntsman's father, also has extensive business interests in China and owns 20 subsidiaries there.

Regardless, all of the GOP candidates are poised to use the U.S.-China relationship as an example of what many on the right view as the Obama administration's tendency to coddle rivals while not paying enough attention to allied relationships. A foreign policy hand with knowledge of Perry's thinking explained the Texas governor's view on Obama's China policy today to The Cable.

"China need not become an adversary. It is a both an economic partner and a military competitor. But Perry takes the Reagan view. We cannot cut defense, we need to invest in a strong military that deters China's misadventures and reassures our allies. On that basis we can negotiate with China," the foreign policy hand said.

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