OTR Interviews

Bolton: US-blind Chinese activist controversy is a 'train wreck'

Will the US apologize for giving Chen Guangcheng sanctuary?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Just in, there's big news in the international mystery developing in China. The blind Chinese dissident who was hiding out in the United States embassy in Beijing now says he wants to come to the United States. But does the United States know that?

Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton joins us. Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: So what is the situation right now in Beijing, as you see it from this side of the world?

BOLTON: Well, I think we've got a train wreck in process here. The dissident, Chen Guangchen, is outside the American embassy, meaning he's no longer under our protection. He's saying that he left because Chinese authorities were threatening to kill his wife. And he now says he wants to leave China and come to the United States.

The State Department is denying big chunks of that. So we've got a real disconnect between what our State Department thought they were doing and what this now very vulnerable Chinese dissident thinks was happening.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, he's very vulnerable. He's in the hospital. And I'm a little bit curious about one thing, and that's that I had some communication from a U.S. official in Beijing who has said that at no time -- and I trust this official -- at no time and when he's in the embassy did he ask to go to the United States. They asked him repeatedly, and he repeatedly affirmed he wanted to remain in China to continue his work.

So I'm somewhat sympathetic that -- to the situation over there. I think that he's saying different things at different times. He's uncertain. I don't know if it's because he's terrified or because he's confused or because he's got other problems going on. But you know, I think the U.S. embassy there is getting a little bit of a runaround.

BOLTON: Well, I must say, though, the State Department is saying contradictory things. Let's take the claim that he has made repeatedly that U.S. officials told him that the Chinese were threatening to kill his wife.

Now, this is a pretty important point. And the State Department says officially, Well, no, that's not the story, but in The New York Times that will appear tomorrow, quoting an unnamed official, Jane Perlez, an experienced international reporter, says that they did tell Chen -- Americans did tell Chen that he would not see his wife, who was in Beijing, unless he left the embassy -- that is to say, left American protection.

And they then said she, the wife, would be sent back to Mr. Chen's home village in Shandong, where no one could guarantee her safety. That's what the American official is saying they told him. Now, that sounds a lot like, Nice wife you got there, be a shame if anything happened to her.

So if I were in Chen's position, it sounds like he did think American officials were telling him his wife was in danger. That's a pretty powerful incentive to leave.

VAN SUSTEREN: Were we -- or should the United States -- I mean, like, a dissident shows up at our doorstep in Beijing. He's got a family someplace. He didn't bring his family. What are we to do? I mean, if all of a sudden, you know -- and what if we think, you know, well, the wife is going to have problems? And I think that's probably the first thing we all thought, is does he have family? I mean, what are we to do in that instance?

BOLTON: Well, we are committed by our own law to grant political asylum to people...

VAN SUSTEREN: If he asks.

BOLTON: ... who have a well-founded fear of persecution, if he asks. Now, it is also the case, once he crosses that doorway into the American embassy, the whole world is different. In Chinese eyes, in Chinese official eyes, this is virtually an act of treason.

And this is where there's another important point. The Chinese have demanded an American apology and a commitment that we no longer use unusual means to get people like Chen into the embassy.

What do they mean by that? Let me tell you something. If you're a blind Chinese man walking on crutches toward the American embassy, you're not going to get there with your ID not being checked by the Chinese security guards outside.

I think what happened here is that Chen was taken into the American embassy in an official American car, which the Chinese security guards dare not intercept. So if that's true, if there was any American assistance to get him into the embassy, the State Department, Secretary Clinton should have known in advance that this was going to be a major incident. I think this is being...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think that...

BOLTON: This is an act of diplomatic malpractice under way.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think that changes the dynamics if we almost went out to his house and got him and gave him the ride there. I mean, I think -- I mean, however he got to the embassy, to me, makes a big difference, whether...

BOLTON: Honestly...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... we went out and fetched him...

BOLTON: ... how could he have gotten in?

VAN SUSTEREN: I -- look, he's blind. You know, good question. I mean, how did he get there? I mean, we can step it back. I mean, how did he -- first of all, how did he escape, number one? Secondly, how far is home from the embassy and how did he get there? He didn't drive there. So I mean, somebody helped him. So I think there's a lot more that we don't know.

The only thing is that inside the embassy, from what I understand, is that he -- you know, he said he wanted to go to the hospital and he didn't want to go to the United States. And I think that's only complicated things. You know -- you know, I have no -- no idea what happened beyond that.

BOLTON: Look, ultimately, of course, he would prefer to remain in China, but he's only got three options once he's inside that embassy, go to the United States, stay in the embassy for God knows how long, or walk back outside. And once he walks back outside, he is at dramatically greater risk. You know, the administration says...

VAN SUSTEREN: But isn't his family...

BOLTON: ... Oh, we cut a deal with China.


BOLTON: We cut -- we got assurances of his security. Oh, really? Well, that's really a lot to go on, isn't it!

VAN SUSTEREN: Isn't his family at risk if he also stays there? I mean, at least in our eyes -- I mean -- I mean, his family's -- his family's at risk if he goes to the United States alone, family's at risk if he stays there by himself, family's at risk if he goes out. I mean, his family's at risk, at least I assume, no matter what.

BOLTON: The family was at risk when he escaped house arrest. That first act...

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, that backs it up further.

BOLTON: ... always puts the family at risk. The question now is, are they any safer now that he's out of the embassy? And the answer to that is certainly not.

What possible way do we have to make the Chinese live up to a commitment to treat him securely? We do know, and there's no ambiguity about this...


BOLTON: ... Chinese authorities were arresting his colleagues.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I got to go. Ambassador, thank you. I'm sure we have a lot more with this. Thank you, sir.