Biden issues clarification on China’s ‘one child’ policy comments

The Vice President's office on Tuesday sought to clarify comments Joe Biden made this week that appeared to condone China's restrictive birth policy.

"The Obama administration strongly opposes all aspects of China's coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization," Biden spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said in a statement released to reporters Tuesday night. "The vice president believes such practices are repugnant. 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."

Barkoff's statement followed outrage from presidential candidates and elsewhere on the right over specific comments Biden made during a question and answer session Sunday at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China.

Biden stated the following in response to a question about China and America's financial health, according to the official transcript:

...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. The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.

The policy, introduced in the late 70s by the communist government, restricts urban, married couples to one child and places family planning restrictions on couples in rural areas. The policy has been connected to forced sterilizations and late-term abortions, which are both illegal. And the policy has been criticized for encouraging sex-selective abortions in a culture that strongly favors male heirs.

Conservatives ranging from presidential contenders to House leaders excoriated the vice president for the comments, casting Biden as endorsing forced abortions.

"China's one-child policy is gruesome and barbaric," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2012 contender, said Tuesday in a statement. "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."

"China's one child policy has led to the great human tragedy of forced abortions throughout China, and Vice President Biden's refusal to 'second-guess' this horrendous policy demonstrates great moral indifference on the part of the Obama Administration," presidential candidate Rick Perry, governor of Texas, said in a statement Tuesday. "Americans value life, and we deserve leaders who will stand up against such inhumanity, not cast a blind eye."

"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," House Speaker John Boehner said Monday in a widely reported 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."

Boehner called for "correction or clarification" from the White House.

In advance of Biden's five-day trip to China, human rights groups had been pressuring Biden to address China's human rights issues.

During his speech at Sichuan University, Biden spoke of the American advocacy in China for human rights and how the United States differs from China in that respect. "...Some in China believe that greater freedom could threaten economic progress by undermining social stability," Biden said. "I do not pretend to have the answer, but I believe history has shown the opposite to be true, that in the long run, greater openness is a source of stability and a sign of strength, that prosperity peaks when governments foster both free enterprise and free exchange of ideas, that liberty unlocks a people's full potential. And in its absence, unrest festers."