Washington Extra – Obama’s China cloud

May 4, 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event in Chantilly, Virginia earlier this week on May 2, 2012. REUTERS/Benjamin Myers

A bright spot of Barack Obama’s presidency – foreign policy – all of a sudden was taking some hits as the White House struggled to deal with a crisis involving a Chinese dissident. 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted away at Obama, talking of a “day of shame for the Obama administration.” Charges – vigorously denied by the White House – swirled that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng may have been persuaded to leave his protective shelter at the U.S. embassy in Beijing so that high-level U.S.-China talks could go more smoothly. Another scenario being floated was that Obama’s team naively accepted Chinese assurances that Chen would not face government harassment if he rejoined his family at home.

The drama only escalated when Chen himself made an appeal, by telephone to a congressional panel, to come to the U.S.

Obama’s bid for re-election on Nov. 6 is thought to hinge on matters far from China: mainly whether he can convince voters that he is best suited to improve a U.S. economy that has been slow to add jobs in the aftermath of a deep recession. And that’s where Romney and his fellow Republicans are sure to keep most of their focus between now and November.

But today, Obama might have seen Romney’s attacks coming, as well as Chinese officials’ complaints of meddling in the Chen affair. He just may not have expected the stinging criticisms that emerged from some human rights groups.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Obama under pressure as China dissident appeals for help – Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng made a dramatic plea for help in a cell phone call to a U.S. congressional hearing from his hospital bed in Beijing, raising the pressure on President Obama over his administration’s handling of the case. Chen, a self-taught legal activist, was sheltered in the U.S. Embassy for six days until Wednesday. He left the embassy shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary of Clinton arrived in Beijing for talks aimed at improving economic and strategic relations between the two superpowers. For more of this story by Paul Eckert and Chris Buckley, read here.

Romney: US handling of Chen case is Obama’s “day of shame” – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed the Obama administration for its handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng’s case, calling it “a day of shame.” For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

POLL: US Republicans back Santorum, Rubio for VP – Rick Santorum and Marco Rubio are the top two choices among Republican voters as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. Eighteen percent of registered Republican voters picked former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum out of a list of 19 potential running mates for Romney, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee in the November 6 general election. For more of this story by Patricia Zengerle, read here. For related video, click here.

Documents: Bin Laden had disdain for al Qaeda affiliates – Osama bin Laden showed disdain for al Qaeda affiliates and fretted about his organization’s image, according to documents seized from his hideout in Pakistan and released publicly on Thursday. The Combating Terrorism Center, a privately funded research center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, posted on its website 17 declassified documents seized during the raid on bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad in which he was killed by U.S. commandos a year ago. For more of this story by Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball, read here.

Obama administration urges freer access to cell phone records – The Congress should pass a law to give investigators freer access to cell phone records, an Obama administration official said in remarks that raised concern among advocates of civil liberties and privacy. For more of this story by Jeremy Pelofsky, read here.

Chesapeake Energy, McClendon under SEC probe – Chesapeake Energy said the company and Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon are under scrutiny by the SEC as part of an informal inquiry. Reuters first reported last week that regulators in the agency’s Fort Worth office were looking into a controversial program that grants McClendon a share in each of the wells Chesapeake drills. For more of this story, read here.

Freddie Mac posts profit, but needs $19 mln in aid – Freddie Mac, the No. 2 provider of U.S. mortgage money, said it will seek another $19 million in taxpayer aid after its quarterly profit failed to make up for a dividend payment to the government for its controlling stake. For more of this story by Margaret Chadbourn, read here.

CME delays extended grain trade in regulatory snafu – CME Group said it will expand grain trading hours one week later than expected, a move that gives rival IntercontinentalExchange Inc a head start in implementing nearly around-the-clock trading. CME pushed back the start of longer trading for its Chicago Board of Trade contracts until May 21 after the CFTC said it had not received a required 10-day notification for the change. For more of this story by Alexandra Alper and Tom Polansek, read here.

Independent counsel sought for MF Global probe – A congressman is pressing for the appointment of an independent counsel to take over a federal criminal probe into the collapse of the MF Global brokerage firm. Michael Grimm, a first-term Republican congressman from New York City and member of the House Financial Services Committee, has circulated to colleagues a proposed letter that would ask U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to step aside. For more of this story by Aruna Viswanatha, Jonathan Stempel and Nick Brown, read here.

From elsewhere…

Bill Clinton to U.S., Europe: quit bickering over spending – U.S. and European politicians are squabbling over austerity measures to resolve deep-seated economic problems, but instead need to set aside entrenched views and take a longer-term approach to find real solutions, former President Bill Clinton told a financial conference. In Europe, the key to battling its economic malaise is in taking the long view: promoting growth instead of a current plan to pare debt by cutting spending and raising taxes, Clinton told the Milken Institute Global Conference. For more of this story, read here.

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