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Rubio defends Romney over U.S. handling of Chinese dissident, Axelrod fights back

Rubio defends Romney over U.S. handling of Chinese dissident, Axelrod fights back

POSTED: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 12:00am

UPDATED: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 12:14am

(CNN) -- Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida stood by Mitt Romney in his reaction to the U.S. handling of a Chinese dissident this week, saying the presumptive GOP presidential nominee did not overreact to the situation.

"I think this crisis is a reminder of what we are dealing with in China," Rubio told "Fox News Sunday." "And we hope that there are reformers in that government that are pushing for a more open system."

He added: "But what we know for a fact we are dealing with now are people that are paranoid and are control freaks and a totalitarian system."

On Thursday, Romney used harsh words to criticize the administration's involvement with the blind Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy, which he departed last week to return to his family.

Romney said he was disappointed in reports that indicate the administration "probably sped up or may have sped up the process" of Chen's decision to leave the embassy due to impending discussions between China and top U.S. officials.

At a campaign event in Virginia, the candidate cited reports that said "our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would ensure the safety of Mr. Chen and his family."

Romney continued, "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration."

The administration faced criticism after reaching a deal with Chinese officials in which Chen departed the embassy on the condition the government would assure his "safety." Soon after he left, Chen questioned the legitimacy of the deal and requested U.S. help in leaving the country with his family.

Rubio, speculated to be a top candidate to serve as Romney's running mate, added his voice Sunday to that criticism, accusing the president of repeatedly failing in situations involving human rights. He pointed to the Iranian uprising of 2009, an event in which the Obama administration largely refrained from involvement.

"And we see that again here now, in China, where somehow this administration looked almost reluctant to forcefully assert the United States' defense of human rights and the principles of human rights," Rubio said.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to Obama's re-election campaign, said Sunday that Romney's response was "shameful" and argued the candidate was "craven to score political points" with his message, which Axelrod said was based on "half information at the time."

"We want to help Mr. Chen achieve his goal, which is to come here, and we want to do it in accordance with our values, and we want to be successful in doing that. And we're making some progress in that regard," Axelrod told ABC's "This Week." "But it doesn't help to have candidates blunderbussing around, trying to score political points, when we're in the middle of that process."

In comments Thursday at the high-level talks in China, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made no mention of Chen while saying the topic of human rights had been part of the discussion.

A senior State Department official said Thursday the United States will do what it can to help Chen and his family leave China if they want to, but added that Washington doesn't have "a magic wand" to get him out of the country.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney referred questions about the situation in China to the State Department. Carney repeated assertions previously released by State Department officials that Chen never asked for asylum while in the U.S. Embassy and was never pressured to leave.

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