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
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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.”


US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

Updated 20 January 2019
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US Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan

  • US and Pakistan should have “strategic engagement”, not transactional relationship
  • The American senator sees a “unique opportunity” to change diplomatic direction of US-Pakistan ties

ISLAMABAD:  US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult US relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

The comments, which add to growing signs of improved relations between Islamabad and Washington, come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.

"I've seen things change here and all in a positive direction," Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, told a news conference in Islamabad.

He said a meeting with Khan, who has declared strong support for a peace agreement in Afghanistan, would leave Trump "far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today".

"With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship," he said. A previously transactional relationship, based on rewards for services rendered, should be replaced by "strategic engagement", including a free trade agreement, he said.

US relations with Pakistan have long been dogged by suspicions that elements in the Pakistani establishment were aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad strongly denies. However, relations have appeared to improve in recent months amid efforts to push the Taliban towards a peace deal.

Trump, who has in the past argued for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, has made it clear he wants to see a peace accord reached rapidly although the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Afghan government.

Graham's trip to Pakistan coincided with a visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and top military commanders including General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command.

Khalilzad left Islamabad without announcing a new date for talks with Taliban representatives, who have refused further meetings until the US side agrees to discuss a timetable for withdrawing its forces.

The uncertainty has been increased by reports that Trump is prepared to order more than 5,000 US troops out of Afghanistan, a move that would represent a sharp change in course from Washington's previous policy of stepping up military action against the Taliban.

With Afghan forces suffering thousands of casualties a year and struggling to hold back the Taliban insurgency, the reports have caused alarm in Kabul, prompting many close to the government to question the US commitment to Afghanistan.

Asked whether there had been confusion over the US message, Graham, who has called for a Senate hearing on Trump's plans to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, said "without a doubt" but added that he did not believe Washington would stand by and allow a Taliban victory.

"The world's not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms. That would be unconscionable," he told Reuters. "Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly."