US expands China health alert amid illness reports

US State Department issued an expanded health alert for all of China. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 June 2018

US expands China health alert amid illness reports

  • US diplomats based in the country had experienced a mysterious malady that resembles a brain injury
  • The US government said that it had brought a group of people from that consulate back to the United States for further evaluation of their symptoms

BEIJING: The US State Department on Friday issued an expanded health alert for all of China amid reports some US diplomats based in the country had experienced a mysterious malady that resembles a brain injury and has already affected US personnel in Cuba.
A previous statement in May only mentioned the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou as the location for the health alert, though it was sent to US citizens throughout the country.
The State Department had confirmed earlier that one US employee assigned to the consulate in Guangzhou had “suffered a medical incident,” and that it had deployed a team to screen employees and family members there.
On Wednesday the US government said that it had brought a group of people from that consulate back to the United States for further evaluation of their symptoms, and reiterated that it was offering screening to anyone at the US embassy in Beijing or other consulates in China who requested it.
The United States also operates consulates in the mainland Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan.
The updated statement, sent by email, changed the location of the health alert to “countrywide” from Guangzhou.
It warned of “unexplained physical symptoms or events, auditory or sensory phenomena,” and said symptoms of the ailment included dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, as well as difficulty sleeping.
China has said that it thoroughly investigated the initial case reported by the United States and found no reasons or clues to explain it.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that as far as she was aware the Chinese government had not had any formal communication with US officials on any new cases.
China’s state-run Global Times tabloid called the situation at the consulate “very strange.”
“Practically all Chinese people do not believe that this country’s official organizations would carry out such sonic attacks against US diplomats. This does not fit with China’s basic concept and principles of diplomacy, and is inconceivable,” the Global Times said in an editorial.
It also said people found it hard to believe that another foreign country could carry out such an attack in China, escape China’s monitoring, and leave no trace.
Last year, 24 US government employees and family members in Cuba displayed the symptoms, which were similar to those related to concussion and mild traumatic brain injury, according to the State Department.
The illnesses among the American diplomats stationed in Havana heightened tension between the old Cold War foes.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement on Tuesday saying the department established a task force last month “to direct a multi-agency response to the unexplained health incidents.”


Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

Updated 6 min 7 sec ago

Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

  • With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda
  • Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a colonialist mentality, prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming

PARIS: France’s Emmanuel Macron led a growing wave of international pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest Friday, telling him Paris would block efforts to seal a major trade deal.
With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit, which opens Saturday in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda and pledging that delegates would hammer out “concrete measures” to tackle them.
Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a “colonialist mentality,” prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming.
“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G20) summit” in June, a French presidential official said.
As a result, France would oppose a trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur nations, effectively killing any chance of it being ratified, he said.
Moves to prioritize the Amazon wildfires on the G7 agenda won backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeting that the fires were “heartbreaking” and offering help to put them out.
But in a sign of EU disagreement, Germany said Macron’s proposal to block the Mercosur deal was “not the right response.”
“Failing to conclude the Mercosur agreement would not contribute to reducing the clearing of the rainforest in Brazil,” a German government spokesman told AFP.
So far this year, there have been 76,720 forest fires in Brazil — the highest number since 2013, official figures show, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest.
“The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” Macron tweeted late on Thursday, suggesting it be high on the summit agenda.
But Bolsonaro blasted the move to make it a G7 item without any participation by Brazil, saying it reflected a “colonialist mentality.”
The leaders of France, the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan already face a litany of issues in Biarritz, which is on a security lockdown for the summit.
Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier Friday for last-minute talks trying to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran all but collapsed after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew US support in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.
“We’re at a critical moment,” Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is “laying out a strategy” for exiting the 2015 deal.
“President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet,” Zarif told AFP in an interview.
He said he had a “good discussion” with the French leader, who would now hold talks with other European leaders to seek a way forward.
Macron’s diplomacy is a delicate task, with France seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.
That prompted Trump to accuse Macron of sending Tehran “mixed signals” in his attempt to broker fresh talks between the longtime adversaries.
But Trump appears to be the outlier among America’s G7 partners on Iran, despite speculation that Johnson, who claims a close personal rapport with the US leader, might be more amenable to endorsing his stance.
On Friday, a British diplomatic source said the UK would continue to back the 2015 nuclear deal, which it helped broker, as the “best way” of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran is just one of a host of issues over which G7 members are at loggerheads, upending a formerly cosy club of rich nations.
Trump will arrive in the glitzy beachside resort on Saturday already riled by a new French law increasing taxes on US Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. He is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector.
Just before the summit, China fired the latest salvo in its trade war the US, announcing new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports.
But in a sign of the summit’s lowered ambitions, French officials have scrapped the idea of a joint declaration at the end, breaking a longstanding G7 tradition.