Ambassador Locke On-The-Record Briefing on Chen Guangcheng
United States Ambassador to China Gary Locke
May 3, 2012
MS. NULAND: All right, everybody. We are sorry to keep you waiting this morning. I am delighted to have with us Ambassador Locke. He is going to speak to you on the record briefly about his experiences with Chen Guangcheng leading – while he was in the Embassy and leading up to his decision to depart. He’ll have time to take a couple of questions about all of that, and then he’s got to go back and rejoin the S&ED, so that’ll be on the record and the audio is available for our review.
So with that, thank you for joining us today. Thank you, Ambassador Locke, for joining us. Over to you.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Thank you very much, Victoria. Let me just say that I and the Embassy have long had interest in Mr. Chen Guangcheng, and of course, the U.S. Government has long had an interest, and we’ve mentioned him in so many of our human rights statements, and have advocated for his humane treatment ever since for many, many years.
Last week, under most unusual extraordinary circumstances, he contacted us, we went out and met with him, and given the fact that he has a – he’s blind, he was injured, we took the extraordinary step in a very unusual situation, exceptional situation, to bring him into the Embassy. I have spent sometimes five hours during the day with him almost every day, two to three, three-plus hours talking with him – so have other Embassy people – trying to determine what it is that he want.
He made it very, very clear from the very, very beginning that he wanted to stay in China, that he wanted to be part of the struggle to improve the human rights within China, and to gain greater liberty and democracy for the people of China. We asked him, did you want to go to the United States, and he said no; maybe someday to study, but his immediate goal was to stay in China and to help with the cause.
We spent a lot of time determining what it is that he want. First and foremost, he did not want to go back to the village and be in Shangdong Province, and he outlined all the mistreatment that he and his family had received there. And he talked about his dreams of wanting to study law and to pursue his studies. He wanted a safe future for his family. And he also was, of course, concerned about those who had helped him during his escape and his travel to Beijing. So we had numerous meetings with the Chinese Government, and I was involved in every single one of those meetings. Sometimes those were – some of those meetings were three times a day trying to present proposals that – to the Chinese Government that met his objectives, and we were constantly trying to determine what those objectives might be and how we could accomplish those objectives.
We consulted with him regularly, and one thing that he really expressed an interest in was wanting to study, pursue the study of law. So we came up with a proposal. Some of it was then – we negotiated with the Chinese on it and it was changed. And we finally had a proposal that met with his agreement. I can tell you that he knew the stark choices in front of him. He knew that – and was very aware that he might have to spend many, many years in the Embassy, and that – but he was prepared to do that unless the terms of an agreement with the Chinese Government was not acceptable to him. He also was fully aware of the plight of his family if he stayed in the Embassy.
At one point on Tuesday, we presented a proposal to him, and he said it was unacceptable – unacceptable – and that he would stay in the Embassy. From then on, we started focusing on what that would mean in terms of procedures with the Embassy, and we left him alone. Later that night, a person went back in to deliver food and asked him if he was still comfortable with that decision, and he said he was, and we respected that. That night, however, we were able to meet with the Chinese Government, because he constantly said he needed some first steps by the Chinese Government as a demonstration of good faith, that they were always asking him to leave the Embassy before they would implement new procedures or part of the agreement, and he wanted a first step by the Chinese Government. And he said why can’t they bring his family up to Beijing. And so we approached the Chinese Government on that, and they said yes.
And the agreement was that if you brought – if the family were brought to the hospital, that he would then be able to talk with his wife, and that would enable him to make the very final decision on whether or not he would leave the Embassy. So while the Chinese Government had agreed to his request to have the family come to Beijing, it was not necessarily in his mind, and we stated it – did not mean that he would definitely leave the Embassy until he had a chance to talk with his wife over the phone, and then he would make his final decision.
He spoke with his wife over the phone, two conversations with his wife over the phone.
QUESTION: What day?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Yesterday. And then we asked him what did he want to do, did he want to leave, was he ready to leave. And we waited several minutes and then suddenly he jumped up, very excited, very eager, and said, “Let’s go,” in front of many, many witnesses. We then proceeded to take him down to the van with the doctors, translators, and many other personnel. Before he went into the van, I asked him again, “Is this what you want to do? Are you ready to leave the Embassy?” And he said yes. We then gave him a phone and he talked with Secretary Clinton. He called his lawyer. He wanted to reach out to a member of the press. And we made that – and facilitated, made all those connections for him.
We stayed with him in the hospital. Of many, many people, I was there for probably an hour and a half after he entered the hospital, met with the family, met with the children. The doctors were there for many, many hours. And so at all points, we were intent on carrying out his wishes and ensuring that we could put together something that met his needs.
Number one, relocation to another part of China, and the Chinese Government gave him seven different universities and places that he could choose from. Number two, that he would receive a college education paid for by the Chinese Government with living expenses and housing for him and his entire family at one of seven institutions of his choosing. Number three, that while he was in the hospital for medical treatment, that the Chinese Government would listen to his complaints of abuse and conduct a full investigation, and three, that he would be given all the rights and privileges of any student at any university, which included the opportunity to apply for a different university down the road.
And so I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave, he was excited and eager about leaving when he made his decision, announced it. He simply – while he was sitting there, we waited for him to make his decision. He also fully knew of what would be – of what staying in the Embassy would entail if he decided not to leave. And he was fully aware of and talked about what might happen to his family if he stayed in the Embassy and they stayed in the village in Shangdong Province.
QUESTION: Toria, he said he made an offer on Tuesday night? I just wanted to clarify. You said you made an offer on Tuesday night and he said it was not acceptable. Was that an offer for asylum?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: No. He never asked for asylum.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: He never asked for asylum. He always said he wanted to stay and live in China, and wanted to go back into China and continue his work on civil rights and to pursue an education.
MS. NULAND: I think --
QUESTION: So --
MS. NULAND: Guys, I think what Ambassador Locke was saying was that the first proposal that was negotiated with the Chinese side was unacceptable to him, and on that basis, he was prepared to stay as long as he was going to have to, and the Embassy understanding that it could be years.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: And we were – we respected that and started making preparations and thinking about what his living arrangements would be on a daily basis in the Embassy based on that decision. So we respected his decision.
QUESTION: You seem to suggest that this is not – that him going to the hospital is not the end, but I just want to make sure, you said he called his wife twice from the Embassy while she was in the hospital?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Yes.
QUESTION: Is that correct? Okay. So at that point, what – that was enough to convince you that he had consulted with his wife and that he was going to – and that – what I’m trying to get at is that now that he is at the hospital and has changed his mind, was it your understanding of the situation that he would be – should be allowed to go back to the Embassy if he wants to?
MS. NULAND: Guys, we’re going to talk about the state of --
QUESTION: Well, this goes directly to what he said. He said the agreement was that if they brought the family to the hospital, he would be allowed to talk with his wife and that would allow him to make a final decision on whether to leave the Embassy.
MS. NULAND: And --
QUESTION: The phone calls did that, so in other words, he’s made his bed and he’s going to lie in it now? He’s left the Embassy and you’re not going to take him back?
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Locke is here to talk about the state of play up to and including our assisting him in getting to the hospital and the support we gave him last night.
QUESTION: Can you describe the context today with him?
MS. NULAND: I will be --
QUESTION: No, but I mean, I think somebody went over to him lately. I think – I know he’s told us in the media what he wants. Has he told you guys what --
MS. NULAND: Again --
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: I’ve not been part of that, and I’ve been here all morning, and so Toria probably has more information as to who all has been over at the hospital.
QUESTION: I want to just quickly ask, though, just understanding you’re giving us your account of what has already transpired, as the Ambassador, he has publicly asked the United States to help him now and said that he’s not comfortable and he wants to leave the country. Are you going to help support his bid to leave the country now that he’s publicly calling on you and Secretary Clinton?
MS. NULAND: Again, I think the Ambassador has been here all day. If anybody has any questions about what went down until we got him to the hospital and yesterday, Ambassador Locke can take one or two of those, and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve just got one question in terms of – it seems like the change of heart came after he got to the hospital. Now whether that was speaking with his wife – there’s other reports from activists that he may have actually seen some of his home province sort of – enemies or thugs or whatever at the hospital, that he may have been actually intimidated there. Do you have any indication of what may have transpired while he was at the hospital that could have forced that change of heart?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: No. I can only just say that I was there for probably about an hour, hour and a half at the hospital after I arrived – after we all arrived there. I know that the deputy chief of mission was there until the evening, and medical personnel were there until the evening. I saw him being interviewed by medical personnel with his wife, assess – or compiling a medical history and what his issues were. I saw the doctors with him and the American doctors with him going over his medical history and any particular issues, so --
QUESTION: But no one overnight, no?
MS. NULAND: Say again?
QUESTION: No one from the Embassy was there after the medical personnel left?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: I’m not aware.
QUESTION: Was that an understanding that somebody was supposed to stay there with him? He was – he’s been saying – overnight – that he had thought that somebody from the Embassy was going to stay overnight.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Our medical personnel had reached their protocol with their medical team on the visits, the access, the consultations, and I wasn’t privy to all of those details so we’ll have to get back to you on exactly what the agreements were.
MS. NULAND: Let’s take one more, then we have to let Ambassador Locke get back.
QUESTION: I just want to clarify, what was wrong with the initial deal that he was given on Tuesday? And given that you had trust in this deal, what is your understanding of why he changed his mind? I mean, is it – if the central authorities were giving their word that they were going to do this for him, why should he have freaked out and changed his mind?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: On Tuesday when we presented the latest offer and response by the Chinese Government to all of our proposals, we were constantly giving – presenting proposals that talked especially about education – which institutions, where, and the like. On Tuesday afternoon, we presented the latest proposal or response by the Chinese Government. He said that that was unacceptable, and he said he, in fact, needed to speak to Premier Wen Jiabao. He was now demanding a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao.
And later on that evening, after we checked on him again and he said he was still comfortable with his decision to stay at the Embassy, he indicated that why can’t the Chinese Government take a first step as a sign of good faith; they’re asking me to leave the – or proposing that I leave the Embassy and all these other benefits would follow; why can’t they do something first like bring my family here.
So we went back to the Chinese Government and said he needs some assurance; you’re asking him to take a leap of faith and he wants the Chinese Government to take a first step. And so it was agreed by the Chinese Government that they would put the family on the fast train, the high-speed train, bring them up to the hospital. And that night, Tuesday night, after we informed him that the Chinese Government was willing to do that, but before they did that, we needed to find out that if they – in fact, they did that, and if in fact he was able to talk to his wife, would in – was he inclined to leave the Embassy.
The Chinese Government did not want to go to the effort of bringing the family up if it was still not acceptable. And he said it was, provided he still had the opportunity to talk to his wife at the – when she was at the hospital before he made his final, final decision.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Thank you. I think --
QUESTION: Can I just ask one question? I just want to clarify whether you or anyone else from the U.S. Government spoke with the wife. You said that he spoke with his wife twice yesterday. Did you ever – she’s now accounting – saying that she was beaten after he escaped, that terrible mistreatment was meted out over the last few days. Did you or any U.S. official hear this from his wife, or was it just her conversations with him?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: We – there was a U.S. Government or Embassy official with her during her – their conversations at the hospital, outside the presence of the Chinese Government. I could hear part of the conversation at the Embassy in which Mr. Chen repeatedly asked are you alone; are there any Chinese Government there; have they mistreated you; are you okay; are you safe. And she was imploring him to come to the hospital, to be reunited with the family, and saying that there will always be uncertainties and we need to take first steps, we don’t want – we need to keep the struggle going, and we have to take it a step at a time. And it may not be everything that they would like or want, but this was a good proposal, and they need to take a step at a time.
MS. NULAND: I need to get Ambassador Locke back.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Thank you. Thank you.
MS. NULAND: I’m going to walk him out.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Thank you.
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