Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – God awful

February 6, 2012

As welcomes go, this might be one of the most colorful (and perplexing) in recent memory. One week before he is to help host Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden took a double jab at China’s economic growth prospects and its one-child policy.

“Because of that God-awful one-child policy they have, what happens now is in the next 20 years they’re going to have such an inverse proportion of the number of people working to the number of people retired that there is no way they can sustain that growth,” Biden said.

The apparently unscripted remarks came during a speech about college affordability in Florida. He was trying to make the case that the United States remains the world’s largest economy and is “better positioned than any other country in the world to lead the 21st century.”

Biden is famous for speaking off the cuff, a penchant that has landed him in hot water a few times. But could it be that he was asked to be tough on China – at a time that U.S. voters are looking to President Obama to stand up to the Asian giant?

It’s hard to know, but Biden did make clear he had a role…sort of. “I’ve been sort of given part of the China portfolio here,” he said. We’ll see how that’s going when Xi rolls into Washington. Xi, by the way, is no mere vice president in a supporting role. He is expected to become China’s president next year.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US closes embassy in Syria, vows further pressure

The United States closed its embassy in Damascus and President Barack Obama vowed to ratchet up pressure on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to step down, even as world powers remained divided over how to end the crisis. Washington said it was pulling all of its remaining diplomats out of Syria just two days after Western countries failed to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have backed an Arab League call for Assad to leave power.
For more of this story by Matt Spetalnick and Andrew Quinn, read here.

Obama tightens Iran sanctions over bank ‘deception’

President Barack Obama tightened sanctions on Iran another notch, the White House said, targeting its central bank and giving U.S. banks new powers to freeze assets linked to the government.  Obama’s move, in an executive order he signed on Sunday, was the latest action in an escalating campaign to target the Central Bank of Iran, and was intended to close loopholes in existing sanctions Tehran has exploited.
For more of this story by Laura MacInnis, read here.

No way China can sustain its growth: Biden

Vice President Joe Biden warned that there is no way that China will be able to sustain its current level of economic growth because of what he called its “God-awful” one-child policy. Biden, who will help host Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in Washington next week, said that when he visited China in August, he made clear to Beijing that the United States’ fiscal problems were surmountable, and less significant than China’s stood to be.
For more of this story by Laura MacInnis, read here.

Romney campaign takes aim at Santorum

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney focused his campaign’s firepower on Rick Santorum to head off his surge in two of three states with nominating contests this week. Coming off a runaway victory in Nevada on Saturday, Romney hopes to cement his front-runner status on Tuesday in caucuses and primaries in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri – the next battlegrounds in the state-by-state fight to pick a challenger to face Democratic President Barack Obama in November.
For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

From elsewhere…

Syria bombards Homs; West scrambles for strategy
Syrian forces bombarded Homs, killing 50 people in a sustained assault on several districts of the city which has become a centre of armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian National Council opposition group said. Western countries seeking Assad’s downfall scrambled to find a new diplomatic strategy after the defeat of a U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab League call for Assad to give up power and start a political transition.
For more of this story, read here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool (Biden at State of the Union address); REUTERS/Brian Snyder (Romney at Nevada caucus rally); REUTERS/Stringer (A damaged armoured military vehicle near Khaldiyeh area in Homs, Syria)

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