After two days of harsh criticism of Vice President Joseph R. Biden's comment that he "fully understand(s)" China's mandatory one-child policy, the White House on Tuesday issued a clarification.
"The Obama administration strongly opposes all aspects of China's coercive birth-limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization. The vice president believes such practices are repugnant," Biden spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said in a statement.
"He also pointed out, in China, that the policy is, as a practical matter, unsustainable. He was arguing against the one-child policy to a Chinese audience."
Top Republicans on the campaign trail and Capitol Hill have hammered the vice president, who said on a China trip that he "fully understand(s)" Beijing's one-child policy, which critics say has led to forced abortions and forced sterilizations.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a statement that Mr. Biden's words "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," Mr. Romney said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one of Mr. Romney's principal rivals for the 2012 Republican White House nod, said Mr. Biden's comment "demonstrates great moral indifference on the part of the Obama administration."
Mr. Biden's comments, according to a transcript put out by the State Department, came Sunday during a question-and-answer session with students at Sichuan University in Chengdu in the context of discussing long-term U.S. budget woes.
The vice president said the U.S. is starting to feel the impact of the huge retiring baby-boomer generation and lower fertility rates, which means the U.S. retirement system soon may have too many retirees and not enough workers.
"You share a similar concern here in China. You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand — I'm not second-guessing — of one child per family," Mr. Biden said. "The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable."
The Republicans on the hustings were joined by House Speaker John A. Boehner, who said he was "deeply troubled" by Mr. Biden's remarks.
Since Ronald Reagan, every Republican president has cited China's one-child policy as a reason to deny U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports and subsidizes the program. The Obama administration, like that of President Clinton, has funded UNFPA on the grounds that no U.N. money directly supports abortion.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the Executive-Congressional Commission on China, said Mr. Biden's comments, which he called "unconscionable," fit a pattern of administration kowtowing to China.
"Obama didn't say a word about any of the human rights crimes of Chinese President Hu Jintao when he visited Washington earlier this year; instead he hosted a state dinner for him," Mr. Smith said, going on to note that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had told him at a hearing that she didn't know whether forced abortions came up in private at the Obama-Hu meeting.
"Now we know," Mr. Smith said. "They sold out. They're just fine with the coercion."
• Kara Rowland contributed to this report.
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