Romney: U.S. should protect Chinese dissident
Mitt Romney said he hopes the United States government is aiding Chen Guangcheng, a popular Chinese dissident now believed to be hiding in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing after fleeing house arrest in eastern China.
"My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family," Romney said in a statement released by his campaign on Sunday. "My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution."
U.S. government and Chinese officials, however, have declined to comment on Chen or confirm reports of his whereabouts. Meanwhile, analysts say questions over U.S. assistance could provoke tension in the country's delicate relationship with China.
A fellow human rights activist, Hu Jia, told CNN on Saturday that Chen had fled to the embassy in Beijing.
Chen, who is blind, gained fame in the late 1990s as a legal advocate for what he called victims of abusive practices, such as alleged forced abortions, by China's family-planning officials.
In 2006, he was sentenced to four years and three months in prison on charges that his supporters called preposterous. Released from prison in 2010, he has since been confined to his home along with his family.
Weighing in on Sunday, Romney said Chen's escape "points to the broader issue of human rights in China."
"Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy," Romney said.
Neither the White House nor President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has officially weighed in on the issue.
Romney has previously criticized China's alleged human rights abuses. On the campaign trail, he has said the country's sizable economy, paired with reports of infringements against freedom, should disqualify China from receiving U.S. assistance.
While the U.S. government does provide financial aid to the country, the money does not go directly to the Chinese government, Douglas Paal, a China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN's Jill Dougherty. He said it goes to local organizations that promote public health, law enforcement, environmental protection and democratic principles.
According to the U.S. State Department and USAID, the government appropriated $17.8 million in foreign aid for China in the fiscal year 2011.
But Romney said that money could be used elsewhere.
"I would stop sending foreign aid to countries that can take care of themselves," Romney said at a campaign event in November.
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