The plight of Chen Guangcheng made its way into domestic U.S. politics on Thursday as Mitt Romney used it in a campaign speech and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith convened an emergency hearing on Chen's fate. As we noted earlier, the U.S. already looks pretty bad in the Chen situation, which gives the president's critics an opening.
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Romney made the point that the United States should be proud of the fact that Chen sought protection in a U.S. embassy, but that reports the U.S. may have tried to speed up his exit were disturbing: "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom, and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration," Romney said, according to MSNBC and Talking Points Memo.
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Smith's emergency hearing on Chen, which started at 2 p.m. and goes until 5 p.m., has so far taken a little longer to get to the point. But it's clear Smith thinks that the U.S. is mishandling the situation, and should be taking a harder line with China. Smith said in his opening remarks, and in a statement on his website Wednesday, that Chen had asked for him by name while at the U.S. embassy, and had been denied the chance to contact the veteran Republican from New Jersey. Smith has campaigned for Chen's freedom in the past, and says he was denied a Chinese visa to visit the activist lawyer.
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Update (3:14 p.m. EDT): The latest from China is a statement floating around Twitter, reportedly from Chen but written by his friend and fellow activist, the scholar Guo Yushan, that says Chen doesn't actually want political asylum from the United States. Rather, he wants to travel here for a few months to rest. It also says he did, in fact, leave the U.S. embassy of his own volition, and doesn't feel coerced by the United States. We first picked up the statement from the Chinese journalist Michael Anti via Twitter, first in the original Chinese and then a retweet of a translation.
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The hearing's still going strong, and you can tune in via its live feed:
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Streaming Live by Ustream