Interview With Stan Grant of CNN
Ambassador to China
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you very much for giving us your time. When we spoke to Chen Guangcheng, he made it very clear he’s changed his mind. He wishes he’d never left the Embassy. Do you now wish that you never allowed him to leave?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: No. When we first – let me just say that when he first came in, we took extraordinary steps to retrieve him. We found out that he had escaped, was in Beijing, wanted to talk to us. We undertook almost like a “Mission Impossible” retrieval to bring him into the Embassy. And he was very, very clear all along. He wanted to be reunified with his family. He wanted to stay in China to be a freedom fighter. He did not want to go to the United States.
QUESTION: But this is a man who fled house arrest. He put his life at risk for it. He said he’d been brutalized and terrorized for years. Was he in any fit state of mind to make a decision like that, that he wanted to stay or wanted to leave?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, he certainly had those options, and we have to respect his desires and his wishes and his free will. At one point, he indicated that he could not accept what the Chinese Government had presented to him, said that he was prepared to stay at the Embassy, and we undertook preparations to allow him to stay and to develop the procedures by which he could be living in the Embassy for conceivably years. We expect --
QUESTION: With respect, is that not seeking asylum? Is that --
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: No. It was about staying in the Embassy, not wanting to leave China. It was his hope that perhaps, possibly years from now with China reform, he would then be able to go back into society. His first option, his thing that he kept telling us he wanted to do, was to be unified with his family and to go back out into China and continue his activism.
QUESTION: Here’s the point he was making to us. He was not in a position to have all the facts to make a decision. He says that while he was at the Embassy, he couldn’t make telephone calls. He couldn’t speak to friends or his family. He was cut off; he didn’t know what was happening in the outside world. He didn’t know what the level of threat that was being made to his family. So he wasn’t in the position – he says he feels disappointed with you, disappointed with the Embassy.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, actually we’ve had conversations with his wife. His wife came out of the hospital today and talked with us at great length. And we’ve had two conversations with him in fact today, and his wife says that we treated him very, very well. It’s apparent that he has had --
QUESTION: But he’s not saying that --
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, but he’s – it’s apparent now that he’s had a change of heart. So we’re going to have to engage in further discussions with him, find out what it is that he wants, and then we’ll act accordingly.
QUESTION: Did you make a mistake in putting too much trust in the Chinese negotiators – the Chinese Government – the same government that had locked him up; held him under house arrest; according to him, had beaten him, beaten his wife, beaten his mother; were threatening at various stages to kill the family? And you trusted these people?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Again, this was his decision. And he indicated to us what he wanted as conditions before he would leave the Embassy. He had the option of staying in the Embassy for years, if necessary. And he indicated the he was prepared to do that, unless the Chinese Government met his conditions. And what were those conditions? He wanted to be reunified with his family. He wanted an opportunity to pursue legal studies, and in fact the Chinese Government offered him a full scholarship at one of seven universities of his choosing, with housing and living expenses for him and his entire family.
QUESTION: But this goes back to an issue of trust. At the same time, he says his wife told him that this same government – the authorities in Shandong were saying, “If your husband doesn’t leave the Embassy, we’re going to have people waiting with weapons inside your house. You’re going to be beaten to death.”
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: First of all, he had a conversation with his wife without – outside the presence of the Chinese Government. It was his decision, in fact, to go back and ask us to approach the Chinese Government after he said no, after he said he was prepared to stay in the Embassy for years, because he said he didn’t trust the Chinese Government. He asked us to tell the Chinese Government that they needed to take a first step as an indication of good faith. And what was his request? He said that he wanted the Chinese Government to bring the family up to Beijing, remove them from the village where they had suffered so much abuse, have them in the hospital, and then he would have a conversation with his wife and make a final decision as to whether or not he would leave.
QUESTION: Okay. I want to ask you the question now: He wants to go to the United States. He’s even said to President Barack Obama – the interview that we had with him: “Please, President Obama, do everything you can to get me out of this country.” Are you going to? Is the President going to?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, first of all, we need to talk with him again. It’s apparent that he’s had a change of heart. We’ve always stood --
QUESTION: He was very explicit.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, look, I understand --
QUESTION: He said he wants to leave this country; he’s in fear for his life.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, I --
QUESTION: Are you going to be able to facilitate that?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: We need to first have that conversation with him. We need to make sure exactly what his desires are. And then we’ll take that up and start discussing them. We need to explore all the options. Because --
QUESTION: Is one possibility – can you do that? Can you make a promise to him, “We can get you out of the country; we can do that.”?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: We are not about to make promises that we cannot keep, at least that’s --
QUESTION: Is (inaudible) legally possible? Can you make it happen?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, first of all, we need to sit down with him and explore all the options. And you cannot achieve political asylum unless you’re first outside of the country that you’re trying to flee. You have to be in the United States first in order to petition for asylum. And let me just say that we achieved everything that he asked us to achieve, and that, in the end, it was his decision.
I remember I was sitting there after he’d had two conversations with his wife, and we gave him as much time as he needed, and then we said, “What is your choice? What do you want to do? Are you ready to leave?” And we just stopped. And then about two minutes later, he jumped up beaming, excited, happy. He says, “Let’s go.” And then in the car ride, just before we got into the van, I asked him again. I said, “Is this what you really want to do? Do you want to leave the Embassy?” And he said, “Yes.” We have to respect his wishes.
QUESTION: Okay. We’re just going to wind-up. Now Ambassador, he’s --
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: At the same time, when he, earlier, the day before, said he did not want to leave the Embassy and was prepared to live there for several years, we respected his wishes and began preparations and talking about procedures under which he would live in the Embassy.
QUESTION: So it really would be nice – just have to ask you – one year from now, where is Chen Guangcheng going to be, in China afraid for his life, or in the United States?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: We always cared very much about him. We have been so supportive of him and his family for years. That’s why we took such extraordinary, almost “Mission Impossible” steps to bring him into the Embassy at great risk to our own personnel. We provided him medical care. That’s why we made sure that he’s at a hospital where he’s receiving care. The doctors – American doctors have been in consultation with the Chinese doctors today. They’re scheduled for a visit tomorrow. We care about him. So if he has had this apparent change of heart, we need to talk with him, we need to make sure we understand fully his wishes, and then we’ll take it from there.
We want to – we support him every single step of the way. And in fact, one of the proposals that we had in the package that we were able to get for him allowed for a possible transfer someday to an American college or university.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for your time.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Thank you very much.
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