Interview With Michele Kelemen of NPR

Kurt M. Campbell
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
J.W. Marriott
Beijing, China
May 2, 2012

QUESTION: First of all, just briefly, China has asked for an apology. What have you told the Chinese officials about that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Look, we underscored on several occasions to them both publicly and privately this – that this was an extraordinary circumstance with very unusual parameters and we don’t expect it to be repeated. And I think we’re going to stand by that. And we’ve made very clear that we seek a strong, positive relationship between the United States and China, and I think they accept that understand our position.

QUESTION: And what guarantees do you have that Chen will be allowed to live a safe life, will be able to study and continue his activism?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, it’s a complex question. The Government of China views this as a matter between the government and a citizen of China. And so they don’t believe, just on a matter of state-to-state protocol, that this is an issue that should be negotiated, for instance between the United States and China. And so our interactions, our discussions with them, were around parameters and commitments that they made both to us and to citizen Chen.

I think the fact is, in many respects, this is unprecedented. We have seen, in the past, Chinese dissidents and others who come into the U.S. Embassy. In every case before, they’ve gone to the United States, many of them to live lonely lives cut off from their country. Mr. Chen made clear right from the outset that he wanted to go back to China. He has lived a very difficult life, and he is a person of struggle. I think he anticipates very clearly that when he goes back into society that there are going to be challenges. We simply feel that we have, through our support and the support from nonprofits and civil society, that we have created the parameters for him to be perhaps a little bit more effective with a little bit more safety. There are no guarantees and China is moving into a period of enormous complexity.

But, as they say, this is the life that he has chosen. And I think one of the reasons why we were so emotional when we said goodbye to him today is, first of all, he’s a deeply inspirational figure, but also, it’s a hard life. Right? He was, today, reunited with a son and a daughter that he had not seen in years. And we were proud of that, that we accomplished that, but at the same time, his future will have enormous challenges undoubtedly.

QUESTION: One of his friends, though, has since tweeted that he actually wanted to leave the country with his family; it wasn’t possible, that his wife was being told she’d be forced back to their village if he didn’t leave the Embassy. So how are – do you trust the Chinese basically with these parameters that they’ve offered to you?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, let me get to the first point if I can. We have very strict parameters, how we handle a case such as this. I probably was in 30 or 40 hours of conversation with him. Every single discussion was about the possibility of how to go back and live a more normal life in China and what we could do to help in that effort. Never once did he talk about asylum or coming to the United States. And I think he fully recognizes what are some of the challenges that people who come to the United States in these circumstances face.

I do believe that he has anxiety about the period ahead, but I also know from my discussions with him that he feels that the United States and the people that he’s worked with and others and nonprofits, just an enormous number of supporters will be behind him as he goes forward. And I think in this set of circumstances, that’s the best you can ask for.

QUESTION: And why would someone – why did he tell you he wanted to stay, given all his troubles in their country?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: He is a patriot. He loves China. He wants China to be a better society. I think he wished that it would happen sooner rather than later. But he has worked his whole life on issues that he is deeply principled about. I think he’ll continue to act in that manner. I think there will be, inevitably, areas where he will come in conflict with authorities. But again, that’s – he – when we talked, we talked enormously about Aung San Suu Kyi, about Mandela, about people who have struggled. And I told him about my experience with Aung San Suu Kyi. He asked me many questions about her. He asked me, does she ever feel low? Did she ever question her choices? It was a very deep set of discussions. And I’m confident that the path he has chosen, he recognized fully the risks and accepts them.

QUESTION: Describe a little bit about the mood in the negotiations, in the talks you had with Chinese officials.


QUESTION: And what sort of attitude did they come to in these negotiations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, look, I have to say I have nothing but respect for the professionalism of my counterparts and the people I work with, some of whom I have close personal relationships with. I could sense very clearly that they wanted a positive outcome. And I think that there are many people in the Chinese Government that feel that Mr. Chen has not been treated well by his provincial government, and that he has not gotten a fair shake. And they were – the Chinese Government was very clear from the outset that they were prepared to do an investigation. And the fact that they brought his family members who had been taken from him quickly to Beijing, I think is a testament of goodwill.

Again, are there going to be challenges? Yes. Should we be careful not to overstate this? Should be – should we be modest in our objectives and our assessments? The answer to that is exactly yes. But at the same time, I also believe fundamentally that he wanted to go back to China. He wanted to play a role in one of the most exciting periods of Chinese – China’s history. And one can only be impressed and, frankly, motivated by that.

QUESTION: Do you think this case still has the potential to overshadow the talks that you and Secretary Clinton and so many other government officials have come to Beijing for?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well, we just came from a dinner, the opening dinner with State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Secretary Clinton and all their colleagues from the Defense Department and from other parts of the government. It was very constructive, very productive.

The United States and China both understand the importance of this relationship. There will always be challenges. And it’s not the fact that there are challenges; it’s how you manage these challenges. And I could see and sense across the table from me this evening not only exhaustion in my counterpart but a satisfaction of a job well done, that in fact the interests of the individual were served, the interests of each of our countries and, as importantly, the interests of our bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.


PRN: 2012/ T63-02