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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The Cable

Libya contact group to meet Thursday in Istanbul

Representatives from the countries that are aiding the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) will convene in Istanbul, Turkey, this Thursday to develop new plans for assisting the Libya rebels as they assume control over their country.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently in New York, has been working the phones on Libya all day. First, she had a conference call with Chris Stevens, the State Department's special envoy to the TNC, and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was then in Cairo. She then spoke with TNC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil.

Clinton then convened a call with several members of the Libya Contact Group, including French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Denmark's Foreign Minister Lene Espersen, the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and Qatari's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani.

"The agenda covered financial support for the TNC and the Libyan people, continuing efforts to ensure the protection of civilians, reinforcing the TNC's efforts to pursue an inclusive and broad-based democratic transition, and preparations for immediate needs for essential services and humanitarian relief," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Monday's briefing.

The State Department will be sending Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon to Istanbul for the Contact Group meeting, which is being held at the political directors' level. Typically, the State Department would send the undersecretary of state for political affairs to such a meeting, but that position is vacant while the administration awaits the confirmation of Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for that post.

The Cable reported last week that U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon will be temporarily brought back to Washington to stand in for Sherman while she awaits confirmation, but Nuland said that Shannon would begin work in Washington late Monday and Gordon, who has been assisting Clinton during this crisis, was prepared to go to Istanbul to represent the United States.

Feltman was in Benghazi last week and emphasized the importance of preventing retribution and violence in his discussions with the TNC, Nuland said.

Several Qaddafi officials reached out to the State Department in the final days leading up this weekend's event, but the State Department didn't pursue negotiations with any of them, Nuland said.

"There have been lots of feelers from lots of folks claiming to represent Qaddafi, including more desperate ones in the last 48 to 24 hours. But none of them were serious because none of them met the standard that we insist on, that the international community insisted on, which is to start with his willingness to step down," she said.

The TNC's top priority at the Istanbul meeting will be to convince the international community to speed up the release of some of the estimated $30 billion in frozen Qaddafi assets. Those assets are frozen both by U.N. Security Council resolutions and unilateral measures taken by the United States and others.

"Our diplomats will work with the TNC as they ensure that the institutions of the Libyan state are protected, and we will support them with the assets of the Qaddafi regime that were frozen earlier this year," President Obama said today.

The State Department has sped up the process for releasing some of the funds to the TNC, Nuland said. It is pursuing a dual-track approach, preferring to work with the U.N. sanctions committee but also planning to release money unilaterally if the United Nations does not act quickly.

"I can't give you a precise answer of how much and when, but know that we are focused like a laser on it now," she said.

Daniel Serwer, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that the U.N. sanctions committee route could be extremely tedious and that the administration should start by giving the TNC funds slowly, while also requiring the TNC to account for how it is spending the money.

"What's important is to begin a steady flow and to have mechanisms in place to insure transparency and accountability in the flow," he said. "The TNC needs a flow of funds, it doesn't need to be a giant flow. Giant flows of money can be poisonous in these kinds of situations."