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An off-the-cuff remark by Vice President Biden about China’s one-child policy has become the subject of derision from conservatives.

Biden, speaking to students at Sichuan University in Chengdu over the weekend, was addressing a question about the U.S. economy and the safety of Chinese assets when he veered into a discussion of demographic change, entitlement spending and social policy.

He was suggesting that the one-child policy has eroded the “safety net” for elderly Chinese. But in doing so, he also appeared to defend the 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. “The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.”

It took a couple of days for the remark to resonate in the United States, but Biden is now begin assailed by the right, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, among others, pointing out that one of the side effects of China’s one-child policy has been forced sterilizations and abortions. “There can be no defense of a
government that engages in compulsory sterilization and forced abortions in the name of population control,” Romney said in a statement.

The anti-abortion group The Susan B. Anthony List also condemned Biden’s remark, accusing him of pandering to the Chinese.

On Tuesday, the vice president’s office responded by saying 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,” said Kendra Barkoff, Biden’s press secretary. “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.”

Any support for China’s one-child policy would be at odds with the official view of the U.S. government. In its 2010 Human Rights Report on China, the State Department described China’s policy as being among the “principal human rights problems” in the country.