Interview With Ian Williams of NBC
Ambassador to China
QUESTION: First off, we saw the photos yesterday morning. We thought there was a deal. What went wrong?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, apparently he’s had a change of heart. So we need to really sit down and chat with him. We’ve had conversations already with him twice today. His wife came out of the hospital and talked with my deputy, and so if he’s had a change of heart, we need to really have more discussions with him, really explore all of the options and find out what’s going on.
QUESTION: Are you still talking to him?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Oh, yes. We are. Yes, we are. In fact, our doctors – U.S. doctors have been conferring with his doctors. He’s been undergoing a full battery of medical tests today, and they’re scheduled to meet tomorrow.
QUESTION: He has said that he now wants to leave China. Is that possible? He’s not in the Embassy anymore. He’s a Chinese citizen in a Chinese hospital. That must complicate things.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, again, we need to really have a thorough sit-down discussion with him and his family to really explore what their thoughts are, determine what they’re thinking, and really find out what the options are.
But let me just say that we have always been supportive of him for years, despite the struggles that he’s been through. When we found out that he had escaped and was in Beijing, we met with him, and then – excuse me – almost used a “Mission Impossible” maneuver to bring him into the Embassy, provided him full medical care. But from day one – from day one – he’s been focused on family reunification, a full investigation of all the abuses that occurred in the village, and he wanted to pursue a – he wanted to stay in China to be a freedom fighter. He never wanted to go to the United States.
And so we constantly put together proposals to the Chinese Government to help him achieve his objectives. And we were constantly coming in with new options and variations. At one point, the Chinese Government gave us a response; we took it back to him. He rejected it. He rejected it and said he was prepared to stay in the Embassy for years if necessary. So we were always ready to respect his wishes, his desires, and to help him achieve his objectives.
And later on, after he said no, one of our Embassy personnel went back in around dinner time, saying, “Are you still all right? Is that your decision?” And he says, “Why won’t they just take a first step? What they’re saying is, I leave the Embassy and trust them to do all these things. Why don’t they do something first?”
And so that’s when he said, “Have the Chinese Government bring my family out from this village of torture and to the hospital, and let me have a conversation with my wife. And if they do that, I will tentatively say yes.” So we arranged that with China’s Government, and the family was brought up by high-speed train, was at the hospital, and outside the presence of the Chinese officials. They had two – she had two conversations with him, and they talked back and forth, and at the end of that we said, “What’s your decision?”
I was holding his hand and you could tell he was really giving it a lot of thought. And we just waited for minutes. Just sat there in silence and waited for minutes. And then suddenly he jumped up and said, “Let’s go.” Before we got in the van I asked him again, “Is this what you really want to do? Do you want to leave the Embassy? Are you ready to go?” And he said, “Yes.”
And I was there for the emotional reunion with his family. He had not seen his son in two years. But what did the Chinese Government offer him? Attending a university – one of seven universities of his choice, full scholarship, full living expenses and housing for him and his family, and with the ability to transfer to another university, which might even have an exchange program in the United States, a full investigation of all the alleged abuses in his village, and that he would be reunified with his family.
QUESTION: Why do you think he changed his mind?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: It’s really an emotional time for him, and there’s a lot to absorb, but– his wife came out of the hospital, was free to come out of the hospital and talk with us. We’ve had two conversations with him today, and brief conversations --
QUESTION: So they are free to move?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, she came out of the hospital building itself and sat down with my deputy and had a conversation. And they, obviously, are making a lot of phone calls and talking with the press and a lot of their friends. But nonetheless, it appears that he’s had some change of heart. And we’re going to have to sit down and really talk with him and find out exactly what it is that he and his wife and his family now desire.
QUESTION: He said in one interview, he’d like to be on the flight out with the Secretary of State. I mean, is that realistic?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, during the discussions that we had at the Embassy, he was also insisting on meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao. He’s an amazing individual; he’s suffered a lot. He very much believes in China, really believes in helping reform China, which is why he said he always wanted to stay here. So that’s what we were working on: a safe environment for him, taking him out of the village of the province where he had suffered so much, a new education. He always wanted to pursue his legal studies. And so it’s a full scholarship, housing, living expenses for him and his family, an investigation of the abuses that he suffered in the village, and of course reunification with the family.
QUESTION: And the last question: Are you confident this can be resolved in a satisfactory way?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, we have always admired his struggles and what he has stood for, and we’re going to work very, very hard – again, apparently he’s had a change of heart. We’re just going to have to sit down with him and talk about it and review all the options. And again, they’re going to have to make a decision.
QUESTION: And leaving China being one of those options, still?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, that’s apparently what he wants – a complete change from where he was all six days that he was at the Embassy. And remember, he was telling his friends that he did not want to leave China, and all his other fellow activists on his blog, the video that he taped and released in which he said, “I want an investigation of the abuses. I want to stay in China,” and he wants reforms in China.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Thank you so much.