‘Human Rights is Part of the DNA of America’: An Interview with Gary Locke on Hillary Clinton, China, and the 2016 Election

By Simone Gao
Simone Gao
Simone Gao
November 9, 2016 Updated: August 28, 2017

Gary Locke, the former ambassador to China, became an internet sensation in that country after he was spotted paying for his own Starbucks and carrying his own bags in the Seattle airport, as he got ready to fly to Beijing to assume his post. He subsequently played key roles in a number of major diplomatic incidents between the United States and China, including the attempted defection of Wang Lijun to the American consulate in Chengdu in February 2012, and the shelter of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng in the American consulate in Beijing, in April of the same year.

Ambassador Locke on Nov. 7 accepted a telephone interview from Simone Gao, a news anchor with New Tang Dynasty Television, an independent, overseas Chinese-language broadcaster and a media partner of the Epoch Times.

Epoch Times here republishes the transcript of that interview, edited for brevity and clarity.

Simone Gao: Ambassador Locke, thank you for accepting this interview. In any presidential election, particularly in this election, American people care a great deal about who the candidates are, because America’s future hangs on the judgement and values of the president. We also know that the most important bilateral relationship in the world in the years and decades ahead will be the China-U.S. relationship. So we want to allow those fundamental values and judgements to be reflected, through discussion of human rights, trade, and national security, with regard to the United States and China. I’d also like to explore why you support Secretary Clinton.

During the past few decades, the framework of U.S. policy toward China has been engagement — engaging China economically to influence it politically. Now China is the second largest economy in the world but it hasn’t gained much freedom, or become more democratic. Instead, foreign investment and technology has boosted China’s economy and provided the Party with more means to tighten control domestically. Meanwhile, China is investing in the United States, and there are concerns that its economic power now influences the United States. If Secretary Clinton becomes our next president, what is her fundamental thinking on economic relations with China?

Ambassador Locke: Well, first of all, let me just say, what a pleasure it is to be able to talk to you about this election, that is so important for the future of Americans. And as you said, for world order, and especially for China-U.S. relations, we need a president who is going to help restore good paying jobs for all of the people in America. We need to make sure that children of working, middle-class families can afford college education. Secretary Clinton is talking about building up our roads and our bridges, which will really improve the safety net and the method of transportation for the people of this country, but at the same time, provide good, good paying jobs for the American people. She is also a trusted, proven leader, and I have known her for over 20 years.

That’s why we also need a person of her stature, leading the United States, representing us in the world. You know, we have differences, we have differences between United States and China. But we also have many areas of common interests. And quite frankly, the world is looking for leadership from both China and the United States, working together, cooperating together, to solve some of these tough, tough world issues, whether it is climate change, whether it is stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear arms, fighting piracy off the coast of Africa, stopping North Korea and Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, or just finding a cure for cancer.

There are differences between United States and China, and Secretary Clinton is highly respected in China, but she also speaks her mind. And she has the ability to sit down with the Chinese leaders to talk about these issues, and to get changes. You know, she gave her big speech in China many, many years ago, where she said that, women’s rights is human rights. And I was with her when she was advocating on behalf of Chen Guangcheng, the blinded dissident and getting him successfully able to come to the United States. So she speaks up on human rights, she speaks up any time that she believes any country, whether China or Russia or even Germany or France or Canada, is violating international rules, whether it is on trade or human rights.

Simone Gao: There is a well-known remark by Secretary Clinton about trade and human rights in 2009, to the effect that we would not allow human rights to get in the way of trade. In Chen Guangcheng’s recent memoir, he expressed his disappointment with how Secretary Clinton handled human rights in China — both Chen and the human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng believe that Secretary Clinton sacrificed human rights for trade. Do you find this criticism legitimate? What is Secretary Clinton’s basic approach to human rights? Does it belong to the category of foreign affairs, or does it pertain to the fundamental values of America?

Ambassador Locke: She has made it very clear that human rights is part of the DNA of America, and America cares about human rights, and it is always part of our policy and all of our positions. Yes, we support trade but never at the cost of human rights. And if you look at the Chen Guangcheng case, we were all prepared, under her direction and under her leadership, to let him stay in the United States embassy for many many years, if we could not reach an agreement with the Chinese government on his terms. He was setting out the terms by which he was willing to leave the embassy. And if the Chinese government did not agree to those terms, then we, the United States government, with Secretary Clinton’s support, were willing to let him stay in the embassy for several years, the way we have with other dissidents in other countries. 

But Secretary Clinton continued to press and push the Chinese government to let Chen Guangcheng come to the United States. That demonstrated her commitment to human rights. I was there. I saw all these discussions and so, I disagreed when they said that Secretary Clinton did not advocate on behalf of Chen Guangcheng. She was working night and day on his behalf.

Simone Gao: Secretary Clinton is well known for her criticism of human rights in China — she has been advocating women’s rights and criticising China’s one-child policy, however, she has been silent on the most severe human rights violation…

Ambassador Locke: Hey, let me say this, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has had deep respect for the Chinese-American community, and she has been very firm in her discussion with Chinese leaders. And she is a friend of the Chinese-American community in America. She is a friend of the Chinese people. But yes, America has firm differences with the policies of China on trade and human rights, and United States government has always been strong and very candid about those differences.

I have seen Secretary Clinton be very firm and very direct with the Chinese leaders. Now the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is constantly insulting people of different ethnic groups, including the Chinese. Donald Trump wrote me a letter, that is very, very negative, and very insulting of the Chinese people. And he has, throughout this campaign, he has insulted people of different ethnic groups, people with physical disabilities, he certainly has been insulting about women and talking about how he can grope them, about how he can kiss them, just because he is a celebrity, even if they don’t want to be touched or kissed by him. He’s insulted Mexican Americans, Hispanic Americans, a judge, who is a very high-quality judge in America, just because the judge’s parents are from Mexico. He has insulted people of Muslim, Islamic faith, and he talks about, for instance, deporting, immediately, all of the illegal immigrants in the United States. The Chinese people need to understand that ten percent of these illegal immigrants are in fact Chinese.

So when Donald Trump said on day one, he wanted to kick out all of the illegal immigrants and they have to reapply to come back into the United States, he is talking about Chinese Americans, too. So who is the better choice in terms of the Chinese-American community in the United States? A person who believes and has worked her entire life on behalf of children and families, like Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, who talks about giving the wealthiest people in America another tax break? The very, very wealthy, the millionaires of America, do not need a tax break.

Working middle-class families, the people who are struggling, need a president who is going to create more jobs and help their children go to colleges without having to pay tuition. Because we all know that a college education is fundamental to the American Dream, and provides the opportunity and the skills, so that all people, boys and girls, black and white, yellow, people of all ethnic groups, and all religions, can succeed, that’s what America stands for.

America is the land of liberty, hope, freedom and opportunity. We need to make sure that the American Dream can be realized, can be attained, can be achieved, by Chinese-Americans, and people of all different ethnic groups. That’s why America is such a strong country, and why so many people from around the world, want to come to America, because of our freedom, our liberty, our way of life, our diversity, our diversity of people, of different cultures, of different languages, of different religions, men and women working together, and achieving great things.

NTD Television host Simone Gao
NTD Television host Simone Gao

Simone Gao: Tomorrow I will be interviewing the spokesperson from Donald Trump’s campaign, and I’ll ask that person about the issues you raised, including what you said just now that Donald Trump wrote you a letter, where he said insulting things about the Chinese people. Can you elaborate on that? What did he write, exactly? 

Ambassador Locke: Well, he was just complaining about the trade policy, but then, I mean, when I was at the U.S. Department of Commerce, we had concerns about trade policy with China, and rule of law, and making sure that the courts were fair and independent. But the way he said it, was very, very insulting about all Chinese.

I don’t have the letter right in front of me, no. But, you know, it was very, very insulting. And that is his character, he is always insulting people. How can we have a world leader, sitting down, how can we have a US president, sitting down with other world leaders, trying to get them to change their behavior if all he does is insult them?

Simone Gao: Exactly — what people are looking at is not just policy, it’s character, judgement, and values. On that, let me…

Ambassador Locke: I mean, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, openly talks about how, what a good business person he is, because he doesn’t pay his workers, he doesn’t pay his architects, he doesn’t pay his contractors. Well, he is smart, he has been a good businessman. I mean, I suppose you are making money, and saving money, by not paying the people who work for you. But is that a person with good character? Would we want our children to grow up to be like that type of a person?

Simone Gao: Secretary Clinton has been silent on the most severe human rights violation and religious persecution in China over the last two decades, that is, the persecution of Falun Gong. In fact, neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration has openly raised the Falun Gong issue with China. If Secretary Clinton becomes our next president, what is she going to do about the persecution of Falun Gong? Will she openly demand the Chinese government end the persecution?

Ambassador Locke: Actually I have been with Secretary Clinton when she had raised these human rights issues; she talked about religious freedom and she talked about greater autonomy and freedom for ethnic minorities in China and different religious groups. So, I have seen her, I have heard her, raise these issues to the Chinese leaders.

I am confident she will continue to advocate and push for human rights including greater religious freedom and tolerance within China.

Simone Gao: In June 2016, U.S. Congress passed H.Res. 343, condemning state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China. This action is good, however it is fairly late, and it isn’t enough. Evidence shows that the crime continues to date. If Secretary Clinton becomes the president, what is she going to do about this crime?

Ambassador Locke: Well, I am not part of her administration, so I cannot say what exactly her proposals are and what steps she is going to take next. All I can tell you is that Hillary Clinton has long had a history standing up and speaking out on behalf of human rights and that human rights is part of our foreign policy. We don’t separate it out. It is part of the character of America, which makes us very, very different from most other countries. Human rights is part of our character, that’s why we care about human rights. And I have seen Clinton advocate on behalf of human rights in a way that makes other world leaders perhaps uncomfortable, but she is very open about it, very forthright about it, and doesn’t run from it.

Simone Gao: In February 2012 when Wang Lijun fled to the American Consulate in Chengdu, reports say that you recommended the State Department give him asylum status, but it was rejected. It was also said that Wang Lijun brought a number of top secret documents with him pertaining to the Chinese government’s top leadership power struggle — the U.S. Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee chair requested the State Department to release these documents, but we never heard anything since?

Ambassador Locke: Those allegations are all completely untrue. We cannot give asylum to a person that is still in the country they are trying to leave. If you want to defect, you have to do that when you are outside the country that you are trying to leave. You cannot do it when you are still in that country.

Simone Gao: So you didn’t recommend the State Department grant him asylum?

Ambassador Locke: It was impossible, you could never have done it, if we wanted it to.

Simone Gao: So you didn’t do it?

Ambassador Locke: If let’s say, let’s say, let’s say, let’s say you are a Russian general, and you have all these secret documents, and you are to defect and you want to seek asylum. If you go to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and you say, I want to defect, I want asylum, you have to ask for asylum when you are in the United States or outside of Russia. You cannot ask for it when you are inside Russia. How can we get that general out of Russia? If he comes to U.S. Embassy in Russia and we want to give him asylum, how do we get him to the United States? How do we get him outside of Russia? If we drive out him outside, from the embassy to the airport, the Russian police, the Russian military has the authority and the power to stop the car. They do not have to let the car take him to the airport. Even if we put him on an airplane, the Russian government does not have to let the airplane take off. So how do we get that Russian general outside of Russia. That’s why, anytime, for instance, a Russian ballet dancer defects and seeks asylum, they do it when they are visiting another country, maybe they are on tour in France, maybe they are on tour in Canada. Then during a break, they somehow go to the French embassy or the US embassy, and they say, I want to defect, I want to leave Russia, I want to become a citizen or I want to go to United States to defect and to seek asylum. You do it when you are no longer in the country you are trying to leave.

Simone Gao: At that point in 2012, the U.S. Consulate was surrounded by security forces directed by Bo Xilai and the mayor of Chongqing, but somehow you decided to give Wang Lijun to the head of national security — is that true?

Ambassador Locke: Well, a lot of these things are classified and I cannot comment on it because it is classified information. But let me just tell you this: We were not going to let him walk out of the consulate in Chengdu, because he would have been apprehended and taken into custody by the security forces from Chongqing sent there by Bo Xilai. And we feared, we were concerned for his safety. We knew that just letting him walk out of the consulate would be very dangerous for him and that he might not be seen again. So, and because he cannot seek asylum, it is physically, legally impossible to seek asylum, to defect to the United States, if you are still in China at that time, we enabled him to make phone calls to Beijing and to talk to people who could guarantee his safety out of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. We helped him secure safe passage out of the consulate in Chengdu.

Simone Gao: Thank you for that clarification. Were any of the documents he brought related to forced organ harvesting?

Ambassador Locke: I am not at lib… I cannot say .. I am not going to confirm whether or not there were such documents.

Simone Gao: OK. I touched on this question before, but let me ask again: You are well known in the Chinese community, and you’re a familiar figure to everyday people in China. These people will want to know: Why do you support Secretary Clinton?

Ambassador Locke:  Because she is a proven, effective leader. She works with people of all different political backgrounds and beliefs to get things done, to benefit the American people. She has very clear policies and goals for creating more good paying jobs for the American people, making sure that the children of working middle-class families can attend a college or university, without being in debt. And she is a respected world leader. And we need a person that our young people can look up to as a role model, and we need to make sure that the children of America continue to have big dreams and know that if they work hard and study hard, we have a president that will work on their behalf, so that their dreams can come true.

We need a president who is going to bring the people of the world together, bring the people of America together, to solve some of the tough issues facing us. We need a leader who values the many ethnic and cultural groups, religious groups, men and women of America, the diversity of America, because it is that great diversity of people — immigrants from around the world — that have made America great. And we need a president who recognizes the contribution of immigrant groups, recognizes the contribution of different cultures and people of different languages, and inspires them to work even harder, so that America is even a better place to live, work and raise a family, so that America continues to be a beacon of hope and opportunity and freedom for people around the world. So that America can be an example to people around the world, and to governments around the world.

Simone Gao: A final question. A peaceful and prosperous China will be a blessing for the world and the United States — where does Secretary Clinton see the positive force that will contribute to peace and prosperity for a future China? How will she work with and nurture this positive force?

Ambassador Locke: Anyone who has seen Secretary Clinton in the past, sees how she brings people together, how she respects people of different cultures, languages, and religions and ethnic groups, and tries to celebrate that diversity and capitalize on that diversity. People of different viewpoints, people with different ideas, when they come together, they actually come up with a better solution. And so many of the issues facing the world cannot be solved just by United States alone or even by China alone, or France alone, or Germany alone. They need world leaders and people of different countries all coming together.

Simone Gao