While delivering a speech in China earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden said: "Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I’m not second-guessing -- of one child per family." After Republican leaders criticized Biden for condoning China's one-child policy, which has involved forced sterilizations and forced abortions, Biden's spokesman "clarified" the vice president's remarks by saying that the vice president didn't say what he plainly said:
“The Obama Administration strongly opposes all aspects of China’s coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization. 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.”
Boehner's office responds that Biden himself, not a spokesperson, should "publicly state the new words his staff has used" and that the Obama administration should cut off U.S. taxpayer funding of the UN Population Fund:
It’s welcome news that a White House spokesman has clarified that the Vice President opposes China’s repugnant “one-child” policy, as Speaker Boehner said Monday he hoped the White House would. But now that such a clarification has been offered, the Obama administration needs to back its backpedaling with action.
There are two things the Obama administration can do immediately on this front. One is for the Vice President himself – the individual who holds the office, and who uttered the damaging comments Sunday – to publicly state the new words his staff has used. The other is for President Obama to announce the United States will stop contributing money to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports China and has been linked to implementation of the one-child policy. Until the administration takes these actions, the clarification issued by the Vice President’s spokesman Tuesday will ring hollow.
Why is it important for the Vice President himself to address the issue? The fact is that the Vice President of the United States traveled to China and said, with the eyes of that nation’s leaders upon him, that he “fully understands” the one-child policy and “isn’t second-guessing” it. It is reasonable for the leaders of China’s government to assume that when the Vice President of the United States speaks in an official setting on an official trip overseas, he speaks for the Obama Administration and the government of the United States. It is also reasonable for them to assume that when the Vice President of the United States says something, he means what he says. It’s also a good bet the leaders of China’s government are not scrutinizing U.S. media outlets for comments made by a White House staffer in response to questions from the media, or putting a great deal of stock in such a staffer’s comments even if they have noticed them.
If the Obama Administration truly opposes the one-child policy and truly cares about undoing the damage the Vice President’s comments have caused, the Vice President himself – or his boss, the President of the United States – should personally go on record immediately and unequivocally right the wrong.
Secondly, if the Obama administration is serious about its opposition to the one-child policy, the President should immediately halt U.S. contributions to the U.N. Population Fund, which has been linked in China to the one-child policy. President George W. Bush stopped U.S. contributions to the UNFPA in 2002, but they were resumed by President Obama when he took office in 2009, on the grounds that the fund doesn’t “directly” support abortion.
Until these two basic actions have been taken, the effect of the Biden incident is that the perpetrators of the one-child policy – the people with the power and authority to reverse it, and end the forced sterilizations and coercive abortions the policy has spawned – have been given further reason to believe that the United States government does not object to the one-child policy and doesn’t mind if it continues. They have been left with the impression that while some American leaders strenuously object to the policy – such as Speaker Boehner, who raised concerns about the one-child policy directly to Chinese President Hu Jintao in a meeting earlier this year – there are other American leaders, including the Vice President and President of the United States, who are willing to offer a wink and a nod, and let the Chinese government simply carry on with its reprehensible business.
By issuing a clarification through a spokesman, the White House has checked a political box on this side of the Pacific. Now the President and Vice President will show the world where their administration really stands by their actions.