US warns employees in China after consulate staff member suffers possible sonic attack
Washington, May 24 : The US State Department has issued a health alert to its employees in China after one of them experienced a possible sonic attack and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, an incident termed as “very similar” to suspected attacks on American diplomatic staff in Cuba.
The Trump administration said they are taking these reports seriously and have taken up the matter with Chinese officials.
“A US State Department government employee in China recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal sensations of sound and pressure,” the US Embassy in China said yesterday.
“We do not currently know what caused the reported symptoms and we are not aware of any similar situations in China, either inside or outside of the diplomatic community,” it said.
Embassy spokeswoman Jinnie Lee said the employee had suffered a “variety of physical symptoms” between late 2017 and April 2018 while working at the US consulate in the southern city of Guangzhou.
The employee was sent back to the US, and on May 18 the embassy learnt that they had been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), she added.
The health warning from the State Department recalled a series of so-called “sonic attacks” on American diplomats in Cuba. Those incidents, still unexplained, prompted the withdrawal of most American embassy personnel from Havana in 2016.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today said he was concerned about the incident and has brought it to the notice of his Chinese counterpart State Councilor Wang Yi.
“It’s a serious medical incident. We want to make sure and take care of every one of our officers serving overseas. We’ve learnt about it only recently. We are still trying to identify all the circumstances surrounding it,” he said.
“We are working to figure out what took place both in Havana and now in China, as well,” said Pompeo, who called medical details in both locations “very similar and entirely consistent” with each other.
The report of the mysterious incident comes at a sensitive time for US-China relations. The Trump administration recently threatened to impose steep tariffs on imported goods from China unless Beijing pledges to make big cuts in its trade surplus with the US. China, in turn, retaliated with higher tariffs on farm products and auto parts.
China, Pompeo said, has offered to assist the US in investigating how this came to be. “The State Councilor Wang and I had a moment to talk about how we can endeavour to figure out what happened here to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again in their country,” he said.
Wang said China has been investigating this matter in a “very responsible” manner.
“We haven’t found that any organisation or individual has carried out such a sonic influence. We will stay in communication with the US through diplomatic channels, and we would suggest that US side can also carry out some internal investigation,” he said.
Wang said they do not want to see that “this individual case will be magnified, complicated, or even politicised”.
“We hope people will not associate it with other unnecessary matters. China will, in accordance with the law, protect all the lawful rights and interests of foreigners in China, especially those of diplomats. That’s our firm commitment,” he said.