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Diplomacy

US diplomat in China shows symptoms of ‘mild’ brain injury in case that echoes mystery Cuban embassy illness

State Department says staff member at Guangzhou consulate reported ‘abnormal’ sounds and air pressure a year after Havana diplomats fell ill 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 6:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 4:49am

A US government employee in southern China has shown signs of a “mild traumatic brain injury” after reporting abnormal sounds and air pressure in a case that recalls the mystery illness that hit American diplomats serving in Cuba. 

In an emailed notice to American citizens in China on Wednesday, the State Department said it was not currently known what had caused the symptoms in the staff member, who is based in the US consulate in Guangzhou.

“A US government employee in China recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure,” the notice said.

Cuban investigators say US allegations of sonic attack are ‘science fiction’

“The US government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event.”

Jinnie Lee, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Beijing, said that between late 2017 and April 2018, a US government employee assigned to Guangzhou reported a variety of physical symptoms.

“The employee was sent to the US for further evaluation,” Lee said. 

“On May 18, 2018 the embassy learned that the clinical findings of this evaluation matched mild traumatic brain injury.

“The US State Department is taking the incident very seriously and working to determine the cause and impact of the incident.

“The Chinese government has assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures.”

In a press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China has been investigating this matter. 

“We haven’t found that any organization or individual has carried out such a sonic influence,” he said.

Wang said the US should avoid politicizing the case.  

“We don’t want to see that this individual case would be magnified, complicated or even politicized,” said Wang, in Washington for talks with Pompeo. 

In Cuba, the US reported that some of its diplomatic personnel and their family members experienced a range of ailments, some after hearing an unusual sound. 

For most, the symptoms occurred around May 2017.

The still-unexplained incidents sparked a rift in US-Cuban relations, while investigators have pursued theories including a sonic attack, electromagnetic weapon or flawed spying device.

US may close its Cuba embassy after mysterious ‘acoustic attacks’ on diplomats: Tillerson

The department said it was not aware of any similar situations in China, either within the diplomatic community or among other American citizens.

Doctors treating the Cuba victims discovered brain abnormalities as they searched for clues to explain the damage to their hearing, vision, balance and memory.

Medical testing has revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate. 

White matter acts like information highways between brain cells.

Cuba has denied involvement, and calls the Trump administration’s claims that US workers were attacked “deliberate lies”. 

However, the new medical details that have been uncovered may help the US counter Havana’s complaint that Washington has not presented any evidence.

Additional reporting by Laura Zhou and Agence France-Presse