Interview With Marsha Cooke of CBS
Ambassador to China
QUESTION: There seems to be a lot of criticism against the United States Government right now as to how this case has been handled. Can you respond to that?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, actually, from day one we’ve tried to adhere to everything that he’s asked of us. We’ve long admired him. We’ve long admired the struggle and his courage, concerned about the abuse that he’s endured in his village. And so when we got the word that he was in Beijing and wanted to talk to us in the wee hours of the morning, we went out and contacted him. And then we engineered almost a maneuver out of Mission Impossible to bring him in to the Embassy, provided all the medical care that he needed.
But from day one, he said that he wanted to stay in China. He was not interested in going to the United States, that he wanted to be reunified with his family, and that he wanted an investigation of the abuses that he had suffered, he and his family had suffered, in the village. And so we were constantly putting together proposals to the Chinese Government to meet his objectives and to meet all of his priorities. At one point, we thought we had presented something that met with his desires, and he rejected it and he said no. And he said he was fully prepared to stay in the Embassy for years, for many, many years, if necessary.
Then he came back and told us that – “Why can’t the Chinese just do something first as a sign of good faith? Why must I trust them to do various things after I leave the Embassy?” So we went back to the Chinese. And he said, “Why can’t they bring the family from the village to the hospital first so that I can know that they’re safe, so I can talk to them on the phone? And if, after that conversation, I’m satisfied, I will leave the Embassy and rejoin them.”
But we were able to get the Chinese Government to offer an unprecedented package of care for him – family reunification. He hadn’t seen his son in over two years. They were going to give him a full scholarship at one of seven universities of his choosing with full housing and living expenses for him and his family, and they would conduct an investigation of the abuses that he had suffered.
And he talked with his wife twice and then made that decision on his own to come out of the Embassy and to rejoin the family. I remember asking him in front of many, many witnesses, “Are you ready to leave? Is this what you want to do?” And he just paused and sat there very quiet for several minutes, and then just jumped up, beaming, excited, and says, “Let’s go.” And even before we went – had gotten into the van with doctors and other personnel there, I asked him again, “Are you sure you want to do this? Do you want to leave the Embassy?” And he said yes. We provided cell phones. He talked to his lawyer. He says, “I’m going to the hospital.” And he wanted to talk with one of the media people. And so we, all along, were trying to comply with his wishes.
QUESTION: Yet he is saying now that he was pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy and remain in China.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: No, he always said he wanted to stay in China. He even said that, I think, on the video. And even many other activists that he was in contact with before he came into the Embassy indicated that his desire was never to come to the United States. He wanted to stay in China to be an activist and be a freedom fighter.
QUESTION: Then how do you explain that he is now saying to every single member of the media that will listen that he wants to be on the plane with Hillary; he wants the President and Hillary to basically come to his rescue? How do you explain that now?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, obviously it’s apparent that he must have had some sort of change of heart. And we need to sit down with him and talk with him and his family, discuss what it is that he wants, and discuss all the options. And we’ll take it from there.
QUESTION: You have just said that you were preparing to take care of him in some way for years to come. Does that not sound like asylum?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, asylum actually means that you go to the United States.
QUESTION: But you would be taking care of him. I mean, that’s --
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Yes. At one point, that was his wish, and we were more than – we have an obligation to satisfy his wish once he’s in the Embassy. He did not want to go to the United States, and so the choice was to help him get back into China, to be a freedom fighter as he wanted; or, if the conditions, the negotiations with the Chinese Government were not to his satisfaction, he was prepared to stay at the Embassy and live there for possibly years.
QUESTION: He is saying now that he feels abandoned by the U.S. Government.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: We have always been there with him. Again, we went out using extraordinary measures to pick him up and bring him into the Embassy. If he had stayed in the Embassy, his family still would have been in the village where they have suffered abuse. And so he was always focused on family reunification, moving away from the village, starting a new life with a college education and an investigation of the abuses that he suffered. We were able to secure that for him.
At one point, when he did not feel that he could trust the government, the assurances were not sufficient, the elements of the proposal were not sufficient, he said no. And we were prepared to carry out his wishes, and we started talking about internally what must the Embassy do to provide a permanent place of residence for him, in essence. What type of contact will he have? Where will he stay, exercise, and everything else?
QUESTION: What are you doing for him now?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, our doctors have been conferring with his doctors today. They’re scheduled to visit him tomorrow.
QUESTION: Are you trying to meet his needs? He’s making enormous requests now. Are you trying to find out how to settle this in some way?
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Well, again, his wife actually came out of the hospital today to meet with my deputy. We’ve had – our Embassy personnel have had two conversations with him today in which they’ve indicated to us, apparently, this change of heart. So we’re going to have to sit down with him at length and really discuss with him what it is that he and his family want, and to discuss the options.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
AMBASSADOR LOCKE: Thank you.