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Romney: Chinese dissident Chen’s departure from American embassy was ‘a dark day for freedom’

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Mitt Romney(Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney has joined critics of the Obama administration's handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, suggesting that American diplomats "failed" to protect Chen from his government.

Speaking at a campaign event in Portsmouth, Va., Romney cited "disturbing" and "troubling" news reports about the case and said it appeared officials at the American embassy in Beijing had "failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures needed" to protect Chen and his family.

'The reports are, if they are accurate, that our administration wittingly 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," 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."

The comments were Romney's first on the subject since Chen left the American embassy in Beijing Wednesday under what Obama administration officials insisted was an agreement that would allow him to remain in China with his family without fear of harassment by Chinese authorities.

[Related: Chen Guangcheng phones Congress]

But Chen later told reporters he left the American embassy after Chinese authorities had threatened his family. He is now seeking asylum in the United States, and has suggested leaving China with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently traveling in the region.

Romney did not specify how he would have handled the incident, and his campaign has not offered a more detailed response. American officials have defended their handling of Chen's case, insisting he was not pressured to leave the embassy. The White House has declined to say whether Chen will be offered asylum and has dismissed GOP criticism over the issue.

"I can assure you that the president is not concerned about political back-and-forth on this issue," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday.

Speaking in Virginia, Romney said it is a good thing that the United States and its embassies are recognized as a "place of freedom" by others around the world, but suggested the Obama administration should be doing more.

"We should defend (freedom) when it's under attack," Romney said.

Olivier Knox contributed reporting.

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