Background Briefing With Senior State Department Officials on Chen Guangcheng
MODERATOR: Thank you all for being here. This will be a briefing on background to discuss the events of the last few days with regard to Chen Guangcheng. We have with us two senior State Department officials. For your records, the first is [Senior State Department Official One], the second is [Senior State Department Official Two], both of whom are intimately involved in all of this.
[Senior State Department Official One] will have a statement, and then we’ll take about three or four questions from the room. People on the phone will be able to hear, but they will not be able to ask questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: [Senior State Department Official Two]?
MODERATOR: I’m sorry. [Senior State Department Official Two] is going to start. Go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. I go then he goes.
MODERATOR: Sorry. [Senior State Department Official One’s] statement and then [Senior State Department Official Two’s] statement. Go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Thank you and good –
PARTICIPANT: And we do want to thank you. Go ahead. Sorry.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry to keep you all waiting here a little bit. I’ll have a statement, and then again as [Moderator] said, I think we’d be pleased to take some questions subsequently.
Chen Guangcheng, who I think of you all know, entered the United States Embassy in Beijing under exceptional circumstances on April 26, 2012, requesting medical treatment from the Embassy. In part because of his visual disability, he was injured while traveling to Beijing from his home village of Donshigu in Shandong province. That’s a couple hundred miles away. On humanitarian grounds, we assisted Mr. Chen in entering our facilities and allowed him to remain on a temporary basis. U.S. medical personnel conducted a series of medical tests and administered appropriate treatment while he was there.
Throughout his stay at the Embassy, U.S. officials consulted regularly with Mr. Chen to discuss his wishes. Mr. Chen made clear from the beginning that he wanted to remain in China and that he wanted his stay in the United States Embassy to be temporary. He indicated that he placed priority on reunification with his family and that he sought relocation to a safe environment elsewhere in China from the province that he’s been living in. He expressed his desire for assistance from the central government in addressing his concerns and grievances, primarily relating to his reported mistreatment and that of his family at the hands of local officials.
Mr. Chen decided to depart the Embassy today and traveled to a hospital in Beijing. He did so on the basis of a number of understandings. China acknowledged that Mr. Chen will be treated humanely while he remains in China. During his stay at the hospital over the coming days, U.S. doctors and other visitors, including those from the U.S. Embassy, will have access to him. He has been reunited with his family, his wife and two children, at the hospital, and they will remain together with him as a family. He had not seen his son in a few years, and his wife had not seen him either, so this was a family reunification after a long and difficult separation.
When he leaves the hospital, the Chinese authorities have stated that Mr. Chen and his family will be relocated to a safe environment so that he may attend a university to pursue a course of study. I think many of you know that he is a self-taught lawyer, but he has long sought the opportunity to study in university. He will have several university options from which to choose. We understand that there are no remaining legal issues directed at Mr. Chen and that he will be treated like any other student in China. Chinese officials have further stated that they will investigate reported extralegal activities committed by local Shandong authorities against Mr. Chen and his family.
The United States will take a continuing interest in the well-being of Mr. Chen and his family, including seeking periodic welfare visits and raising his case with the appropriate authorities. We will look to confirm at regular intervals that the commitments he has received are carried out. We have conveyed to the Chinese Government the concerns he’s expressed about friends who helped him travel to Beijing and have urged authorities to take no retribution against them.
We have worked together. We have sought to resolve this case in a manner consistent with American values and our commitment to human rights and in the context of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.
MODERATOR: Let me just, before our second briefer begins, remind our friends on the phone that this a background briefing with two senior State Department officials. We will have a statement for the record by Secretary Clinton on paper later this evening.
The second briefer is [Senior State Department Official Two] for your records.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I want to pick up on the last statement made, which is that we’ve sought to resolve the case in a manner consistent with American values, our commitment to human rights, and in the context of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership. We were true to our values. We respected Mr. Chen’s freewill, both his desire to depart the Embassy, which he did with his own – of his own freewill, and most fundamentally his consistently stated desire to stay and work in his own country and to continue his work.
In the process, we think we have helped to secure for him a better future, the reunification of his family after years apart, a relocation to a better place, and new educational opportunities. We think we were also true to our human rights policy, which is one in which individuals within their own societies are given an opportunity to engage, not to remain in isolation. And we think we were true to our broader foreign policy strategy, which is to recognize that our relationships with other countries are not zero-sum, that they could work together with us to achieve a common outcome. We exercised intensive diplomacy, the use of partnerships with private entities, commitment to international law, all to bring about this outcome.
MODERATOR: Good. Let’s take three or four questions. Let’s start with Michele.
QUESTION: The Chinese are asking for an apology for accepting him. What – have you offered any sort of apology?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Let me just answer it this way if I can. This was an extraordinary case involving exceptional circumstances, and we do not anticipate that it will be repeated. Recognizing the exceptional circumstances under which Mr. Chen entered the U.S. Embassy, we intend to work closely inside the U.S. Government to fully ensure that our policies are consistent and – with our values. And that’s about all I’ll say on that one.
QUESTION: But as an apology, an apology is really a pretty specific thing.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I just want to – I think I just stated what our position is.
QUESTION: Do you feel that there’s anything to apologize for?
QUESTION: So you’re not saying whether the U.S. will apologize, as the Chinese have demanded?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think I’m just going to stand on what we’ve stated.
MODERATOR: I think he’s answered the question.
QUESTION: Beyond that, the foreign ministry statement says it’s asking the U.S. to investigate, because the Embassy was used in a way that embassies are not supposed to be. This seemed to be an inference that he got in with maybe the help of others. What do you say to that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think at this time, I’m just going to repeat what I’ve just said, so I’m not going to go into any further details. We are going to be sure, as we review all of the details, that we are completely consistent in what we say.
QUESTION: And given that Chen – that there are Chinese guards outside of the Embassy, how did Chen get inside? Was he picked up by U.S. diplomats elsewhere and then brought in?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think I’ll just stick there and stick with what I –
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official One], do you expect Chen to remain in China for the medium to long term? And secondly, can you give us a sense of how much you think this is going to affect the Secretary’s meetings tomorrow and on Friday and the longer-term relationship with China?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Why don’t I let [Senior State Department Official Two] do the first part, and I’ll do the second part. Okay?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We think it’s his determination and hope to remain in China. He expressed that view from the very first conversation we had with him and he never varied from it.
QUESTION: So that --
QUESTION: And how do you guarantee his safety if he stays here in China? How can you maintain – what are your guarantees that there won’t be retribution?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, can I – I mean, just out the outset, I think it’s important to underscore that Mr. Chen did not request safe passage to the United States to seek political asylum. Throughout his stay at the Embassy – and I’m talking about numerous discussions – Mr. Chen made it clear that he wanted to remain in China with his family, and frankly, he wanted to participate with what he thinks is ongoing in China, which is a very exciting, dynamic period that he believes that he has an important role to play, as do we.
I would say that [Senior State Department Official Two] has already talked about the process itself. Overall, the United States and China, over the course of the last several days, worked in an extremely intense but collaborative process that, for us, was very much guided by our values and our principles, but the dialogue was conducted in a way that was consistent with a strong relationship between the two sides.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what the Secretary’s role in all of this was, since she came – on the way here or (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Can I go back just a second, guys? Even though we are – this is all happening rapidly, I do think we owe you – I owe you a little bit more, so I’m going to just give you this, and again, will fill out all the details as we go forward. Literally, we’ve been up for a week without any sleep. (Inaudible) we don’t want to put anything out that’s inconsistent or wrong.
So because of the unique circumstances of this case that we’ve already discussed, including his disabilities and his medical condition and that much of this was conducted during the night, the United States did assist in his entry into the Embassy. But beyond that, right now, I can’t get into any specifics. Okay. So I’ll just –
MODERATOR: So let’s go to the Secretary’s role. Let’s --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Secretary’s role. I would say the Secretary, Secretary Clinton, provided strategic guidance and was kept completely informed at every stage of this effort. And if I can just say one other thing – sorry – (inaudible) first call after leaving the Embassy was Secretary Clinton. And he was emotional, happy about the fact that he was going to be reunited with his family, I think, frankly, prepared for the struggle ahead. And the first thing he said to Secretary Clinton was – and he does not speak very much English – after saying in Chinese how grateful he was that she had mentioned him in the past and had supported his case, he said in broken English, “I want to kiss you,” which was, in a way, quite touching at the time and quite emotional for all of us.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Deeply touching, deeply touching.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: And when you say --
QUESTION: And just to – I have one more. Just to answer –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: -- the question that people obviously want to know –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there any intent or any plan for her to meet him in person?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I really don’t have anything to say beyond that. I mean, this has just happened in the last several hours. But I do think it is significant that his first call was with the Secretary of State.
QUESTION: So he initiated the call?
MODERATOR: I think the intention is to let him have some time with his family, to rest and recuperate and reunify with them. But as we have said, we will stay in touch with him, and there may be members of the delegation here with us who go and see him.
QUESTION: So to clarify, he called her or she called him?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, he, as you know, is blind.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And so while we were in the van as we had left the Embassy, it happened with – we had been discussing all the details, very intense interactions with Chinese interlocutors. As we got in the van, several of us realized that we did not have our cell phones because the – parts of the Embassy are classified spaces, and so we were all scrambling for a cell phone. His cell phone is from a different province and he was having difficulty working it. So we used one of the cell phones from one of the Embassy staff. And the Secretary wanted to speak with him as soon as he was available and thrilled to take that call. He has also talked to his lawyer, many of his supporters, and others in the media.
QUESTION: So he asked to call her?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. He wanted to speak with her. He spoke about her often in our sessions and about President Obama, and he clearly had followed how Americans had talked about him and his case and had taken sustenance. And I think part of those references to him had kept him strong through a very difficult set of experiences, experiences over the last several years.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think we should put it in the context of the last couple of days. A number of us became very close with him, including Ambassador Locke, who is an extraordinary person. We had talked to him and shared our own personal stories. At the – his family had arrived at the hospital, and he had spoken to his family. He was very excited to hear from them. He had had little contact with one of his children over the last two years, and the question was whether he would go to see them.
It was critical to us that it be a decision made of his own freewill. We said to him, Mr. Chen – Ambassador Locke said it to him: Are you ready to go? And he sat there and he said: (In Chinese,) which means let’s go. And he stood up and we walked out together. When we got into the van – and it took a little while to get downstairs and into the van because he was walking with a crutch, he has a foot injury – the call came from the Secretary.
He – these are two people who have known a lot about each other. She’s spoken about him many times. Assistant Secretary Posner has spoken about him many times. He spoke a lot about her. He was very well aware of others that she has spoken to. There was a lot of discussion about her relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi. And so the conversation was warm and excited on both sides of people who were now finally beginning a kind of personal interaction after having a kind of mutual admiration of each other from a distance for many years.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Can I say one other thing? I just – I think just for context, to give you guys a sense, he is self-taught, but he has looked at the experience of many other human rights advocates and pioneers in trying to better their own society, and so he understands how difficult a life in exile is. And he has lived a life of struggle for the last many years, and he fully recognizes that there are struggles ahead. But I believe he feels now, with a much closer partnership with not just the United States but others in the educational and public-private sector, that he will have an opportunity to make a difference, to continue to make a difference.
MODERATOR: We --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Can I just – I know. Just one other – just about what it was like to interact with him. And I’m sorry, [Moderator]. I know we have to go.
MODERATOR: I just want to give the last question (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. [Senior State Department Official Two] was talking about what it was like to interact with him. He is, in many respects, a global icon, very recognizable in China. But when you meet him, he is – he’s a very inviting person. And so when you speak with him, he often likes to hold your hand. And so we found ourselves over long periods of time in conversation where he would hold my hand in one hand and [Senior State Department Official Two]’s in the other. And so it would be impossible to describe these as simply sort of business. There has been undeniable human connection here from everyone who worked with him. And we – at least I can say I believe that we worked in a way that is virtually unique. I know of no other arrangement that has ever been done like this in diplomacy with China.
And here I must say I was – many of our interlocutors in China worked creatively, worked intensively and with humanity to support this effort. It was not easy for the Chinese Government. But at the same time, our interactions with him were deeply personal. And I think we have given him both a better life than he had and a much better chance at the future.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: If I could just say, I’ve been here for human rights dialogues for a number of years, for legal experts dialogues. Now there’s the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. We had with the Chinese Government a real dialogue about this issue over a number of days, and then we had a very intensive dialogue with Mr. Chen at the exact same time. And I think for both of us, it was very – both dialogues were very powerful and emotional, because it showed how much the relationship between the two countries have changed so we can have these kind of conversations, and it showed how – the way in which human rights figures engage with the world has changed.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would also say we were able to address every issue that he raised with us with varying degrees of satisfaction, and that was important. And so he’s – we – as he left the Embassy, he was enormously grateful to Ambassador Locke for all that he had done for him, the enormous hospitality at all times, and the care that our doctors gave him and the support during the process.
MODERATOR: Guys, the Secretary is looking for you to go to dinner. I want to give our dean, Matt Lee, the chance for the last question.
QUESTION: Yeah. It will be – it will amount to (inaudible) just one but it’s actually three. One, the injury that he sustained on his way here, that’s what injury you were talking about?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: That was what he was treated for?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. I mean, he’s --
QUESTION: Did he break it or what?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I don’t – and Matt, I thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t – I can’t tell you exactly, because first of all, we didn’t get to – we didn’t review his medical documents. The doctor did. He did hurt his foot in the journey from his village to Beijing, and he told me that coming over the wall that he had landed funny.
QUESTION: Over the wall of his house?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: He came – he said he came over eight walls.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFIICAL ONE: Yeah. But the big one was the one he struggled over. So that’s the first (inaudible). But Matt, he has – he had several other things that the doctor treated him for. Our doctors are actually working with their doctors at the hospital to ensure that he has the appropriate tests and that the appropriate – he has given us permission to provide the medical records to the appropriate Chinese authorities. These things are in no way life-threatening. They are just simply issues that require some attention.
QUESTION: Okay. And then you’re not giving the apology to – does the United States believe that its – that the Embassy here and its employees acted properly, not only in accordance with American values and traditions but also within Chinese law? In other words, did they do – do you think that they did – does the United States think that people did anything wrong under Chinese law by helping him get into the Embassy and then allowing him to stay there?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think our actions were lawful.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Louder.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think our actions were lawful.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, everybody. We have to let these guys go because they have to join the Secretary for dinner with the Chinese.