US Vice President Joe Biden has provoked outrage in some quarters in the United States after saying that he ‘fully understands’ China’s one-child policy.
‘Your policy has been one which I fully understand – I’m not second-guessing – of one child per family,’ Biden said at a question and answer session with students at Sichuan University.
Biden went on to add: ‘The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable. So hopefully we can act in a way on a problem that's much less severe than yours, and maybe we can learn together from how we can do that.’
But the damage, as far as many conservatives are concerned, has been done.
‘China’s one-child policy is gruesome and barbaric,’ presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a statement. ‘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 defence of a government that engages in compulsory sterilization and forced abortions in the name of population control.’
Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner was also quick to weigh in:
‘I’m deeply troubled by the comments reportedly made by the Vice President yesterday regarding China’s reprehensible one-child policy, which has resulted in forced sterilizations and coerced abortions and should not be condoned by any American official,’ he said in a statement. ‘No government on Earth has the authority to place quotas on the value of innocent human life, or to treat life as an economic commodity that can be regulated and taken away on a whim by the state.’
China’s one-child policy was effectively launched in September 1980, when the Communist Party’s Politburo issued an open letter to party members and the youth league that urged them to take the lead in having one child only.
According to the Chinese government, the policy has prevented about 400 million births in the three decades since it was implemented. But it has remained deeply controversial among rights groups within and outside China.
Last year, for example, Amnesty International called on officials in southern China not to ‘violate human rights in carrying out their reported plans to sterilize thousands of people…in a drive to meet family planning targets.’
‘Forced sterilizations carried out by officials amount to torture and the haste of the procedures raises questions about their safety and possible health impacts,’ Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director, said at the time.
The ferocity of the response from conservatives in the United States is an indicator of how foreign policy, and policy toward China in particular, could play a part in next year’s election. Romney’s response appears to be part of a shift toward a more aggressive posture as he battles for primary votes on the right of the party against outspoken candidates such as Michele Bachman and Rick Perry.
Expect plenty of China bashing over the next 15 months.