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“President Reagan in the 1980s helped Taiwan to transition from a one-party dictatorship to a democracy,” Mr. Edwards said.

“Our secretary of state has given up this guy without an enforceable deal, which is just frankly amateurish and Romney shouldn’t hesitate to say so,” said Jeremy Carl, Hoover Institution scholar and Project Liberty founder.

Some blamed the mountain of U.S. debt for the administration’s squishiness on the Chen case.

Beijing has financed huge chunks of Washington spending in recent years with its purchases of U.S. Treasury notes and other instruments, and a prudent rule of behavior — with nations and with people — is to avoid getting into a fight with one’s banker.

America’s banker in this case, the government of China, has gone so far as to demand that the United States apologize for harboring Mr. Chen in the first place and permitting the U.S. press to present his side of things.

“We needs to reset the State Department’s mindset since Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton’s mindset is that America can’t talk tough with our Chinese banker,” said Republican National Committee member Solomon Yue, himself a refugee from communist rule in China and a member of Project Liberty.

“Her view is incomplete because America also is the second-largest customer for China’s exports. So America is the ‘king’ under the old maxim of economics. Now we can deal with China through strength.”