BEIJING (May 3, 2012) — United States Ambassador to China Gary Locke spoke with media Thursday regarding the dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped custody to the U.S. Embassy and brokered a deal with the Chinese government to let he and his family apply for student status in New York where he would heal from torture but not make the United States home and never asked for asylum at the Embassy.
Gary Locke: “Let me just say that I and the Embassy have long had interest in Mr. Chen Guangcheng, and of course, the U.S. Government has long had an interest, and we’ve mentioned him in so many of our human rights statements, and have advocated for his humane treatment ever since for many, many years.
Last week, under most unusual extraordinary circumstances, he contacted us, we went out and met with him, and given the fact that he’s blind, he was injured, we took the extraordinary step in a very unusual situation, exceptional situation, to bring him into the Embassy. I have spent sometimes five hours during the day with him almost every day, two to three, three-plus hours talking with him – so have other Embassy people – trying to determine what it is that he want.
He made it very, very clear from the very, very beginning that he wanted to stay in China, that he wanted to be part of the struggle to improve the human rights within China, and to gain greater liberty and democracy for the people of China. We asked him, did you want to go to the United States, and he said no; maybe someday to study, but his immediate goal was to stay in China and to help with the cause.
We spent a lot of time determining what it is that he want. First and foremost, he did not want to go back to the village and be in Shangdong Province, and he outlined all the mistreatment that he and his family had received there. And he talked about his dreams of wanting to study law and to pursue his studies. He wanted a safe future for his family. And he also was, of course, concerned about those who had helped him during his escape and his travel to Beijing.
So we had numerous meetings with the Chinese Government, and I was involved in every single one of those meetings. Sometimes those were – some of those meetings were three times a day trying to present proposals that – to the Chinese Government that met his objectives, and we were constantly trying to determine what those objectives might be and how we could accomplish those objectives.
We consulted with him regularly, and one thing that he really expressed an interest in wanting to study, pursue the study of law. So we came up with a proposal. Some of it was then – we negotiated with the Chinese on it and it was changed. And we finally had a proposal that met with his agreement. I can tell you that he knew the stark choices in front of him. He knew that – and was very aware that he might have to spend many, many years in the Embassy, and that – but he was prepared to do that unless the terms of an agreement with the Chinese Government was not acceptable to him. He also was fully aware of the plight of his family if he stayed in the Embassy.
At one point on Tuesday, we presented a proposal to him, and he said it was unacceptable – unacceptable – and that he would stay in the Embassy. From then on, we started focusing on what that would mean in terms of procedures with the Embassy, and we left him alone. Later that night, a person went back in to deliver food and asked him if he was still comfortable with that decision, and he said he was, and we respected that. That night, however, we were able to meet with the Chinese Government, because he constantly said he needed some first steps by the Chinese Government as a demonstration of good faith, that they were always asking him to leave the Embassy before they would implement new procedures or part of the agreement, and he wanted a first step by the Chinese Government. And he said why can’t they bring his family up to Beijing. And so we approached the Chinese Government on that, and they said yes.
And the agreement was that if you brought – if the family were brought to the hospital, that he would then be able to talk with his wife, and that would enable him to make the very final decision on whether or not he would leave the Embassy. So while the Chinese Government had agreed to his request to have the family come to Beijing, it was not necessarily in his mind, and we stated it – did not mean that he would definitely leave the Embassy until he had a chance to talk with his wife over the phone, and then he would make his final decision.
He spoke with his wife over the phone, two conversations with his wife over the phone (Wednesday).
And then we asked him what did he want to do, did he want to leave, was he ready to leave. And we waited several minutes and then suddenly he jumped up, very excited, very eager, and said, “Let’s go,” in front of many, many witnesses. We then proceeded to take him down to the van with the doctors, translators, and many other personnel. Before he went into the van, I asked him again, “Is this what you want to do? Are you ready to leave the Embassy?” And he said yes. We then gave him a phone and he talked with Secretary Clinton. He called his lawyer. He wanted to reach out to a member of the press. And we made that – and facilitated, made all those connections for him.
We stayed with him in the hospital. Of many, many people, I was there for probably an hour and a half after he entered the hospital, met with the family, met with the children. The doctors were there for many, many hours. And so at all points, we were intent on carrying out his wishes and ensuring that we could put together something that met his needs.
Number one, relocation to another part of China, and the Chinese Government gave him seven different universities and places that he could choose from. Number two, that he would receive a college education paid for by the Chinese Government with living expenses and housing for him and his entire family at one of seven institutions of his choosing. Number three, that while he was in the hospital for medical treatment, that the Chinese Government would listen to his complaints of abuse and conduct a full investigation, and three, that he would be given all the rights and privileges of any student at any university, which included the opportunity to apply for a different university down the road.
And so I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave, he was excited and eager about leaving when he made his decision, announced it. He simply – while he was sitting there, we waited for him to make his decision. He also fully knew of what would be – of what staying in the Embassy would entail if he decided not to leave. And he was fully aware of and talked about what might happen to his family if he stayed in the Embassy and they stayed in the village in Shangdong Province.
He never asked for asylum. He always said he wanted to stay and live in China, and wanted to go back into China and continue his work on civil rights and to pursue an education.
We respected that and started making preparations and thinking about what his living arrangements would be on a daily basis in the Embassy based on that decision. So we respected his decision.”