Vice President Joe Biden's office dismissed criticism of his seeming support of China's one-child policy, saying Tuesday that the vice president's recent remarks to a Chinese audience were meant to expose unintended pitfalls of the policy, not give approval to forced abortion.
"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 late Tuesday.
"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 added.
Biden faced criticism this week after appearing to tell a crowd in China that he doesn't have a problem with the country's one-child policy.
The vice president addressed the policy while answering a question about the U.S. budget deficit at a university in Chengdu on Sunday. He was trying to explain how China has a looming entitlement crisis on its hands because its strict enforcement of the one-child-per-family rule has essentially eroded the "safety net" for seniors. Fewer children means fewer people earning money and supporting retirees.
But in explaining that concept, Biden appeared to condone China's policy.
"You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I'm not second-guessing -- of one child per family," Biden said, according to the official transcript of the event. "The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable."
Conservative groups, and GOP presidential candidates, slammed the vice president for the remark.
"Really, Mr. Vice President? You're not second-guessing a policy that has resulted in untold numbers of forced abortions, forced sterilizations, outrageous fines or even jail time for families that dare to defy the law, and a gender imbalance crisis?" reads a blog on the Susan B. Anthony List said website.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, called China's policy "gruesome and barbaric" and questioned how Biden could have given it a pass.
"Vice President Biden's acquiescence to such a policy should shock the conscience of every American. Instead of condoning the policy, Vice President Biden should have condemned it in the strongest possible terms," he said in a statement.
"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," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another leading candidate. "Americans value life, and we deserve leaders who will stand up against such inhumanity, not cast a blind eye."
China introduced the policy three decades ago to help curb population growth. It does not apply to those in rural areas, but families living in cities can be subjected to stiff fines for breaking the rule. The policy has also resulted in families choosing to have male children more frequently than female children.