Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney weighed in on the ongoing diplomatic situation in China involving an activist who unsuccessfully sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy, chastising the Obama administration and calling Thursday "a dark day for freedom."
Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-taught lawyer who sought escape from mistreatment by local Chinese officials, left the embassy on Wednesday to seek medical treatment after Chinese and American officials reportedly established an agreement that would allow him to live peacefully in a different region. But on Thursday, Chen said he would like to flee China with his family because he fears for his safety, according to the Associated Press. The situation is further complicated because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top U.S. officials are visiting China to discuss other issues.
Romney charged that the Obama administration has mishandled the situation.
"The reports are, if they are accurate, that our administration willingly or unwittingly communicated to Chen an implicit threat to his family and also probably sped up or may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy because they wanted to move on to a series of discussions that Mr. Geithner and our secretary of state are planning on having with China," Romney said at a campaign event in Virginia.
"It's also apparent, according to these reports, if they are accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would have assured the safety of Mr. Chen and his family," Romney said. "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration."
Republicans have sought to politicize the Chen situation and use it as an example of foreign policy failure on the part of Obama. But Romney was careful to couch his remarks by conditioning them on the "accuracy" of reports coming from China, leaving him room to maneuver depending on how the incident ultimately plays out.
Romney also received the endorsement of former presidential rival Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota during his political rally in Virginia. Bachmann, who dropped out of the race the day after a disappointing finish in the January 3 Iowa caucuses, praised Romney's plans for the future.
"When you look at 38 plus months of unemployment above 8 percent, when you look at a doubling of America's energy prices at the pump, when you look at debt accumulation in excess of $5 trillion under his watch, there's no question in my mind Americans will go to the polls and they'll be saying, 'Mr. President, you're fired,'" she said. "And instead, we will soundly stand for someone who believes in America, who believes in our children, who believes in the hope of opportunities for this next generation."
Bachmann's endorsement, like that of other former Romney rivals, comes despite months of attacks on the campaign trail in which she claimed the former Massachusetts governor would never be able to defeat Obama in a general election.
Romney praised Bachmann as a "powerful leader in our party."
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, a rumored potential vice-presidential candidate for Romney, also spoke at the rally.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.