Chen Affair Raises Questions About Romney Blind Trust Investment In Chinese Surveillance Company

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was quick to lash out at the Obama administration’s handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Yesterday, when reports circulated that U.S. embassy officials had communicated threats to Chen’s family, Romney blasted the administration, saying, “if the reports are true” then the episode was a “dark day for freedom.”

The situation on the ground in Beijing remains uncertain but new reports suggest that progress is being made by the State Department in reaching an agreement with Chinese authorities to permit Chen to take up a fellowship from an American University, “where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children,” reports State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. But while Romney was quick to attack the Obama administration while sensitive negotiations were underway yesterday between U.S. diplomats and Chinese authorities, the presumptive Republican nominee has never answered questions about whether his own family has profited from Chinese surveillance of its own citizenry.

In March, The New York Times revealed that a Bain-run fund, in which a Romney family blind trust had invested between $100,000 and $250,000, purchased Uniview Technologies in December. Uniview is a Chinese company that claims to be the biggest supplier of surveillance cameras to the Chinese government and produces “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that allow police to share images in real time and provide technology for an emergency command center in Tibet “that provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s web site.

Security cameras played a central role in the house-arrest imposed on Chen Guangcheng’s family. After his escape to Beijing and the U.S. embassy, Chen reported that Chinese authorities installed seven video cameras and an electric fence at his house. However, it is not known whether Uniview supplied these cameras.

Yesterday, in a surprise call to a Congressional hearing, Chen told lawmakers, “I’m really afraid for my other family members’ lives” and “[n]ow those security officers in my house basically have said, ‘We want to see what else Chen Guangcheng can do.'”

With the news that Chinese authorities may permit Chen to leave China with his family, a political crisis may be averted. But Mitt Romney and his family’s investment of between $100,000 and $250,000 in Uniview Technologies should raise questions about Romney’s ties to a company that openly advertises its close ties to the Chinese government’s state security apparatus and the use of its technologies in “both peacetime and wartime.”