A U.S. government employee stationed in China has suffered health problems “very similar” to those that afflicted several American and Canadian envoys in Cuba and led to a still-ongoing diplomatic row, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.
A health alert sent to U.S. citizens from the consulate in Guangzhou in southern China said officials did not know what caused the symptoms and were not aware of similar cases in China. They called the sensations “subtle and vague, but abnormal.”
The employee, who was not identified, reported strange sensations of pressure about the head while posted at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou from 2017 until now, officials said.
The employee was brought to the United States for medical examination and the findings “were similar to what might be seen in a patient with head concussion or mild traumatic brain injury,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a separate statement.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Beijing said the employee was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury.
Pompeo testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the symptoms were “very similar” and “entirely consistent” with ailments that sickened 24 U.S. diplomats or family members in Havana from late 2016 to summer 2017. The Trump administration has called the Cuba incidents “deliberate attacks” but has still not determined what caused them.
The U.S. diplomats in Havana told officials they heard painful, high-pitched noises in 2016 and then suffered headaches, dizziness and nausea, and struggled to concentrate.
The employee in China started experiencing the symptoms late last year through April, said Jinnie Lee, the embassy spokeswoman. The embassy learned of the diagnosis on May 18, she said, and officials are taking the issue “very seriously.”
Investigators were confounded by the situation in Cuba. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, which the State Department asked to investigate, found symptoms of a concussion although those affected hadn’t bumped their heads. They had heard the noises in their homes or hotel rooms.
The unexplained incident sank the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, which had only restored diplomatic relations in 2015 after more than half a century. The State Department pulled most of its personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana and expelled 17 Cuban diplomats in Washington.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last year referred to the situation as “targeted attacks,” although investigators struggled to find evidence of a sonic weapon. Cuban officials denied involvement.
Pompeo said the Chinese government was notified of the latest report and that it pledged to honor its international commitments to protect foreign diplomats.
Lee, the embassy spokeswoman, said the Chinese government has “assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures” related to the case in Guangzhou, a sprawling port city on the country’s east coast.
Wednesday’s health alert to U.S. citizens came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi prepares to meet with officials in Washington. He’s expected to discuss trade between the world’s two largest economies as they try and broker a deal that averts heavy tariffs.
The alert advised citizens to see a doctor if they suffer from any medical problems during or after their stay in China.
And it had a less conventional suggestion: “If you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises, do not attempt to locate their source,” it said. “Instead, move to a location where the sounds are not present.”