Backgrounder with Senior State Department of Officials
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Embassy had a lot of contact with Mr. Chen today. We’ve had numerous contact – telephone conversations with him, extensive meetings with his wife, who came out of the hospital to meet with us at the Embassy --
QUESTION: At the Embassy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. Embassy officials --
MODERATOR: At the hospital.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: At the hospital. Excuse me. Came out of the hospital to meet with Embassy officials. And the ambassador had a long conversation with Mr. Chen lasting about 20 minutes, and – but the Embassy has had very good access with Mr. Chen and his wife throughout the day.
QUESTION: One quick thing. I mean, the Secretary said that they met with him, also.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. I was about to say that.
MODERATOR: Let’s let him get through the briefing.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Also the doctor and Embassy personnel in fact met with him this evening and talked to him directly, asked about his medical care. He was very, very – he thought the medical care was excellent, was very, very pleased with it. In fact, he asked our Embassy doctor what he thought of the medical care, and the doctor agreed it was excellent, that they some of the very top staff, top specialists in the hospital on the case. Our doctor also felt that the test results were amazingly fast. Things had been rushed along very, very prompt. They did a CT scan on his foot. At first everybody thought he had one broken bone; it turns out he has three broken bones. They put a cast on his foot.
QUESTION: Which one? Left?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It was his --
MODERATOR: We will endeavor to figure out which foot.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think it was right foot – right foot.
QUESTION: And which bone? (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That will be for the next meeting.
Let’s see – he felt that he’s been – indicated that he’s been treated very, very well. He’s been on the phone non-stop and they’ve done extensive testing and there were no serious intestinal problems. He may need ongoing monitoring of his intestinal issues, but they’re beginning to reduce some of the medication that he’s been receiving.
The hospital staff and others brought his children, have given them haircuts and new clothes. Some of the kids have had some fevers over the last several days, and so the children are also getting medical care. And today was his son’s birthday. And so our Embassy people brought birthday presents for him, along with the hospital staff.
QUESTION: It’s his 10th birthday?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: A birthday cake – brought him a birthday cake.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) hospital staff?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Hospital staff brought it.
QUESTION: Is it 10th birthday?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t remember his age. Let me just say that he was very upbeat, very, very appreciative of all the care, and thanked us, thanked the Embassy for all of the help he’s received. The ambassador asked him what he wanted to do. And he indicated, after talking with his wife, he wants to come to the United States for studies and – oh, he also indicated to the ambassador that he was embarrassed by saying to Secretary Clinton that he wanted to kiss her.
QUESTION: Did he say it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And he felt – he did not want to create any embarrassment and he thought that he may have offended her.
MODERATOR: So the point was that he did say it, but then later he thought that it would be embarrassing, so --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: So he did say it, right?
MODERATOR: -- and he wanted Ambassador Locke to understand what he felt.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Understand that he felt very, very embarrassed and hoped that it was – hoped it was not inappropriate, and so he was apologetic about it.
QUESTION: Is that why he made the --
QUESTION: -- the kiss to --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So – and --
QUESTION: Sorry. He told this to --
MODERATOR: The ambassador.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: He told that to the ambassador. He said that to the ambassador.
QUESTION: The ambassador of the United States to China?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. So --
QUESTION: Who – so – can we try to (inaudible)? We can say that a senior official said that Chen told Gary Locke that --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So with that, I’ll turn it over to official number two.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you very much. Let me just take a moment to just sort of lay out the United States long history of support for Mr. Chen. Obviously, for over a decade, the United States has followed his struggle very closely. He has been mentioned prominently in Secretary Clinton’s speeches. We have worked closely with the Embassy over the course of the last several years to track developments associated with his conditions at his former village.
Last week, under extraordinary circumstances, the United States took the initiative and brought him into the Embassy on the basis of humanitarian support. While there, we began his course of treatment and worked closely with him about what he wanted to do. At that time, he indicated very clearly, unequivocally that he wanted to remain in China, wanted to continue to play a role in building a stronger civil society.
In that process, we engaged directly both he and the Chinese Government to arrive at a set of unprecedented understandings that attempted to provide a framework for him to study in a different city, to be reunited with his family, to be able to give testimony on allegations of abuse and extralegal activity in his province.
And I will say the one thing that [Senior State Department Official One] did not mention, both today and yesterday Mr. Chen had the opportunity to provide detailed allegations to representatives of the Chinese Government who came to interview him in his hospital room.
We believe that the conditions that were undertaken are actually still in place, and it is the strong view of the Chinese Government that they have followed through on those understandings. However, as has been discussed on rejoining his wife and seeing his children for the first time, and frankly, given the remarkable emotion of just his plight and trip from his village, the time at the Embassy, the very intense back and forth between the Chinese Government, of which we accurately presented to him what the Chinese Government had relayed to us, and we also provided to the Chinese Government very clear and honest assessments of what – and wishes that he had.
But after a chance to talk with his wife, as has been stated, he had a change of heart. And I think it would be fair to say over the course of the last two days, we have been involved, under the direction of Secretary Clinton, in a very significant and sustained diplomacy. I think what [Moderator] said is that we would like, at this juncture, to protect the sensitivity of these deliberations, but I would simply say that the two statements today and the timing of their release speak for themselves.
We are encouraged by the overall process, and we believe that steps will play out expeditiously. And I think I would just conclude by saying our goal throughout this was to ensure that we supported his desires and make that process consonant with our overall values. And I think I’ll just stop there.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s do this in an orderly fashion. Let’s start with Michele.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about what you mean by expeditious. Is that days, weeks, months? And also, there’s the question about when the Chinese say he can apply like any other Chinese citizen, locals here say that means that you have to go back to your home province to apply. Does he have to do that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think – yeah. First of all, thank you. And I’m not going to get beyond – the two statements speak for themselves. But you will note that there is a specific reference to circumstances and accommodations associated with his medical condition, and I’ll leave it at that. And “expeditiously” means expeditiously.
QUESTION: Just following up on that, in other words, he is so injured that he could not at this moment be moved?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think I’d just state what I’ve already – stay with what I’ve already stated.
QUESTION: Given that Mr. Chen himself did not seem to trust the Chinese implementation of the first deal that you got, what makes he and you think you can believe the implementation of this second deal?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Let me just say on that we actually believe that the Chinese Government was following through with the arrangements and the understandings that were undertaken. But what matters is what Mr. Chen felt and believed. And I think it’s fair to say that after discussions with his wife, which frankly were impossible before they were reunited, and that reunification with his wife and his family was a direct consequence of our diplomacy.
After that was undertaken, he decided that the appropriate course of action for he and his family was to pursue study in the United States, and he communicated that to us directly. And from that moment, we shifted in our overall approach. We believe that this process will proceed accordingly, and we have high confidence in its course.
QUESTION: And so does that mean that when you say that he didn’t believe the Chinese were implementing the deal, but then it sounded like you said you think the Chinese were implementing the first deal? I’m just trying to understand. Is it that he really didn’t think they were implementing the deal in terms of not letting American officials visit him in the hospital and those kinds of things?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t – I won’t run through all of this, but I would simply say that we had Embassy personnel with him until the evening on the first night he was there, a phone call later that evening. There was always the understanding that he would have medical tests yesterday. We had a series of calls yesterday. We had access today, discussions with the ambassador, extensive meetings with his wife. And frankly, as far as I can tell, he’s been on the phone with a very large number of people, so –
MODERATOR: Including some of your organizations.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. So – and Congress.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And even Congress. So –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So I think we feel, at least, that he has had substantial access, and we’ve had substantial access to him. And what we were most concerned about, frankly, was his medical situation. And we also believed that one of the things that was necessary – and we agreed on this with our Chinese interlocutors – was that he needed a period of rest.
And I think the circumstances around that first period – the emotion associated with reunification with his wife and family, the just overwhelming scene at the hospital, the exhaustion that had, I think, become quite clear – I think there is a clear sense that he needed to sort of establish his bearings. And we believe that what’s most appropriate is to work to accommodate his goals, and that’s what we’ve done.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks. In the statement, when you say that you expect that the documents will be processed expeditiously --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And I don’t – Shaun, I don’t mean to be rude. I think [Moderator] was very clear at the outset, and what we’ve given you is what we can go at at this time.
QUESTION: Again, just do you think that that’s an assurance from the Chinese Government, or is it just a hope?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think what I’ve said and what [Moderator] has said is exactly where we’ll stick. And I’m sorry that – and I just – I would just simply say that it is very important at this time to protect the sensitivity of these interactions.
QUESTION: Yeah. Does the – does your discussion of the access – does access to him continue? Are you expecting to continue to see him in person? Have his concerns over his extended family in Shandong and his other friends and so on – have those been addressed? And is there any chance the Secretary is going to see him before she goes?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we have been assured of access, and we’ve had access. Our doctors – our doctor has been in full contact with his medical team. They’ve been conferring; they’ve been comparing notes, sharing results. And today’s visit was almost an hour, 45 minutes. More than half of it was with him directly. And so there will be additional contacts and consultations by the medical staff, with the medical staff.
QUESTION: And --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) medical staff?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, no. And of course Embassy personnel. We have – we’ve already been in to meet with him, and his wife has come out.
MODERATOR: Embassy personnel.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: His wife has come out freely to talk with Embassy personnel.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: On several occasions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On several, several occasions. We’ve had telephone conversations with him.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And we’ve had assurances of continuing access. We have raised on a few occasions the cases and the concerns that he’s provided to us. We have made clear that we will continue to do so. And I have nothing further for you (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And again, the government officials have been interviewing him to take his complaints about the abuses that he and his family have suffered in the village.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And that was a very substantial, several hour process.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what kind of government officials?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I can’t.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the other one (inaudible) non-answer around his question about Clinton meeting?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don't have anything on that.
MODERATOR: And just to remind, the Secretary has already talked to him on the phone. Matt.
QUESTION: Sorry, who?
MODERATOR: The Secretary had talked to him on the phone earlier in the week. Go ahead.
QUESTION: With Chen?
QUESTION: Have you all made a – determined whether Mr. Chen qualifies to get his student visa? (Inaudible) it says that you’ll process it with – I mean, I’m assuming that if he gets permission to leave the country from the Chinese, you’re not going to say no, but you’re not going to not give him a visa. But I’m wondering, do you know at this point right now, does he qualify? I mean, he’s not some terrorist. He’s got a disability. But I don’t know – is he able to – doe he need Braille? Does he – I mean, how would he study in the – do you consider him to be a legitimate student?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think (inaudible) has given information about that, but let me just say that as long as he has a legitimate offer of study from a university or a college, an accredited educational institution in the United States, and he is serious about pursuing a course of study, that is the main – those are the main factors in deciding whether to grant a student visa.
MODERATOR: And I would just add that there are an enormous number of very successful blind people who are students in the United States.
QUESTION: No, I mean, if the Chinese give him – can you say today that if the Chinese give him permission to leave and he comes in with all his papers filled out and everything, that you will say yes?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, okay. So he’s got a visa if he can apply?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. You said that diplomacy today had been under the direction of the Secretary. She’s been pretty busy all day. How was she directing it? By BlackBerry? By conversations in the car? By how? And who did she talk to on the Chinese side? She was with Dai all day, so they must have had some kind of a conversation. And I have a follow-up.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, I think I would just say, Jane, that the Secretary had extensive meetings with senior Chinese officials and she was in very close contact with us throughout the day and asked for regular updates and provided us, frankly, crucial input at valuable junctures.
QUESTION: You mean from them? From the people that she was talking to?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, to us.
QUESTION: What do you mean by crucial input?
MODERATOR: I think he’s already answered the question about her own diplomacy and then her guidance as other aspects of the diplomacy were conducted.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one follow-up? Was Mrs. Clinton --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I didn’t mean – by crucial inputs at key junctures. Sorry, I’m a little tired.
QUESTION: That’s all right.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sorry.
QUESTION: Crucial input at key junctures. When the Embassy got the call from Mr. Chen’s friends outside last week, was Mrs. Clinton informed of this and was she involved in the decision to go out and get him?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think it would be fair to say that the highest levels of the State Department were involved in every aspect of the diplomacy associated with Mr. Chen, beginning long before that but in every stage over the course of the last --
QUESTION: That’s a very dramatic moment. Was she personally involved in the --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m just going to stick – I’m going to stick with that.
MODERATOR: I think we’re going to just give those who haven’t had a chance to ask something one hit, and then we’re going to have to wrap it up.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you just explain for us what was the involvement of President Obama and the White House in the events that have unfolded this week?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All I can tell you is that we have very strong representation from the White House on our delegation, and we are in regular contact with the NSS on every matter that’s being discussed.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about what’s happening at the hospital right now that journalists trying to see Chen, human rights lawyers (inaudible) the Chinese Government?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t have any input.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t have any information on that.
QUESTION: Are you – but are you concerned about it? You’re not aware of it (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, I’m sorry, I’ve been involved in other things.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the safety of his associates, his mom, his brother, the people close to him.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: As we said on a few occasions – I want to be careful because I’m trying to (inaudible) three or four. We’ve had detailed conversations with Chinese interlocutors about concerns of his family, his friends, his colleagues back in Shandong and others who have been involved in his pilgrimage to Beijing over the course of last week. So yes, we have and we will continue to.
QUESTION: We’ve talked about the highest levels of the State Department and our government. I’m just curious about their government. To follow up on Jane’s question, do you know whether this came up in her meeting with President Hu? It would be interesting to know.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m not going to characterize those discussions, but I think it would be fair to say that this is a matter that has received attention at the highest levels in both governments.
QUESTION: The second question: Is it your expectation that if he gets to the States that he really is going there for rest and studies, or that that would lead to some more permanent status?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think he’s been very clear that he would like to go to study in the United States. He’s also made clear that he believes that his future and his life is back in China. And the United States, frankly, over the course of the last week and a half, has done everything it can to create that opportunity for he and his family.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And remember that the arrangement that the Chinese Government provided him was education at one of seven universities of his choosing inside China with full scholarship and living expenses and housing for him and his family. And that was as a result of – that was one of his key goals, education here in China – education – well, wanting to pursue his legal studies.
MODERATOR: We’re going to have one from Matt and one from Jill, and then wrap up.
QUESTION: On my visa question earlier (inaudible) be prepared to grant (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, under law --
QUESTION: Does that include his extended – I mean, if he --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, for a student visa, it applies to your immediate family.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So his wife and two children.
QUESTION: And then just the other thing is, did the question with – did it come up with the Chinese, if he goes to the States, will they – when he’s done and wants to come back, assuming he doesn’t want to stay, the question of whether the Chinese would let him come back, did that come up at all?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We have not discussed that.
QUESTION: Okay. So that’s an open question, right?
MODERATOR: It’s a hypothetical question because it didn’t come up. Jill.
QUESTION: I just wanted to --
QUESTION: Well, I’m surprised that it didn’t, because he says he wants to come back. And that’s why Aung San Suu Kyi never left Burma. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to come back.
MODERATOR: Well, he’s a Chinese citizen, right?
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but that was – so was Aung San Suu Kyi. You guys were the ones who compared him to – were saying – talking about Aung San Suu Kyi and him. And one of the things that made her case so unusual or interesting was that she had the opportunity to leave but she wanted to come back, and she wouldn’t leave because they wouldn’t let her.
MODERATOR: Okay. You’re jumping to hypothetical scenarios in two different countries. Jill.
QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure, you’re saying that the Chinese Government indicated that it will accept. I just wanted to make sure how they indicated that. Because the last state of play I saw was this kind of odd foreign ministry on its website answering a theoretical question. Has there actually been something a little bit firmer coming from the Chinese Government, or was that what you were basing his --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I didn’t use that term, so I don’t --
QUESTION: I’m looking at the statement here. “Has indicated that it will --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, but I didn’t use it personally. I’m just going to stand by the statement right there. I mean, look, guys, what [Moderator] said stands. This is extremely sensitive. Look at my earlier statement about the timing of the joint releases. And I think we’re going to just stand pat with what we’ve said.
MODERATOR: Okay, that’s it. Thank you all very much.