Interview With Jill Dougherty of CNN
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
QUESTION: Let’s start with this issue of whether he wanted to leave the Embassy or didn’t want to leave the Embassy. Because some of his friends are saying that Mr. Chen was threatened with his wife being killed if he didn’t leave.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, all I can say is I spent an enormous amount of time with him over the course of the last several days. And we have very strict protocols on how we handle these things, and I saw, on at least three occasions, our wonderful ambassador here, Ambassador Locke, ask him specifically, as we are required to do with witnesses around: Mr. Chen, are you ready to leave the Embassy voluntarily? And each time he said, “Zou,” which means let’s do it, let’s go.
And we’re going to be putting some pictures out, and I think what you’re going to see from these is he is excited; he is happy. I think he’s anticipating the struggles ahead, but let me just say that there were a lot – there was a lot of hugging and a lot of really quite genuine warmth between him and us. And I think everyone felt that we had served his interests and we’d worked closely with him in a manner that brought his family together that had been torn apart years ago and really had done something that gives him a chance to have a productive life. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s what he wanted, and we were very grateful to be able to support him.
QUESTION: Okay. So now, what was Mr. – were any Chinese officials in those negotiations with you and – discussions – and Mr. Chen?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: No. The Chinese Government decided that it would be inappropriate for any of their officials to come into the American compound. So we, during a period of about four days, had very intensive around-the-clock discussions. We would go and speak with our Chinese interlocutors, and then subsequently come back and speak with him, ask him about his assessment of what we were hearing.
We started the process by saying: What is it that you want? What are the things that matter to you? And he wanted reunification with his family, people who he hadn’t seen in years. He wanted commitments that he can move out of this area where he had really been the subject of terrible treatment. He wanted an honest investigation, starting at the central government level – about what was going on in this province. And he also wanted a chance to go to university, and he’s self-taught – it’s incredibly impressive – and really have a new chance. And I must say, and you’ll have to take a look at this, I think we were able to deliver on all the things that he’d asked for.
Now time will tell. And what we have been able to do is provide the base, but it will be important for the U.S. Government, for non-profits, for his many friends, admirers, and supporters to create a support network for him that protects him, that supports him, that encourages him in the way ahead.
QUESTION: So what does this do to the overall relationship right now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, I’m going to tell you something that is – might seem a little surprising, even contradictory. In truth, we worked very closely, the U.S. and China, to manage this situation. It was not, clearly, China’s choosing that something like this happened, but I interacted with a lot of people that had empathy for Mr. Chen. Some of them really admired him quietly and thought maybe he might have been mistreated. And I think many of our interlocutors put a premium on a good relationship between our two sides.
So on one level, you’re going to see some criticism back and forth, and you can expect that. But I can tell you on another, deeper level, I think there’s a recognition that this is an example of how we can work together to deal with challenges that, if handled poorly, can be bad for the individual, bad for our country, bad for their country, and bad for the relationship.
QUESTION: And just one last question: You said that this is a – one of the most intense things you’ve done as a diplomat. Tell me about that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, it would be hard to describe. I’m – you’re working around the clock. You’re facing challenges that, in many respects, are unprecedented. We have never had a Chinese person who came into the Embassy that wanted to go back. Almost in all cases they end up leaving, sometimes to a future in the United States that is sad and lonely. But he was determined to go back to China. He wanted to return to his country. And to create the parameters for that to happen, to work with him, to work with the government, to work with our colleagues was enormously challenging.
But I must say, under the leadership of our ambassador, my colleague Harold Koh, I cannot imagine a group of people I’d rather work with. And so I’m proud of what we accomplished. I’m sure there will be those who say: Oh, you could’ve gotten more or you could’ve gotten this. This is the first time that a Chinese person who had suffered, who had complaints, is being relocated and that this kind of investigation is going to take place. Now we’ll see, again, how this plays out. But I think what we’ve accomplished is extraordinary and, frankly, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to do it, to work with my colleagues, and to work with my Chinese interlocutors.
QUESTION: Okay. Well --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: And to get to know him, too.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Oh, thank you.
PRN: 2012/ T63-01