Archives
  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. government employee in southern China suffered a brain injury after reporting strange "sensations of sound and pressure,” - a strikingly similar account to what American personnel experienced in recent years in Cuba, State Department officials said on Wednesday.In a health alert to American citizens in China posted online Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China said an employee stationed in the sprawling port city of Guangzhou had "recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure." The cause of the reported symptoms remains unknown."The U.S. government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event," the U.S. Embassy said in the alert."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."Jinnie Lee, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, told ABC News in an email that the Guangzhou employee reported experiencing a "variety of physical symptoms" starting late last year and continuing through April.The unidentified individual was sent to the United States for further evaluation. The embassy was informed on Friday that "the clinical findings of this evaluation matched mild traumatic brain injury," according to Lee."The Department is taking this incident very seriously and is working to determine the cause and impact of the incident," Lee said in the email on Wednesday. "The Chinese government has assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures."The State Department is dispatching a team to Guangzhou early next week to conduct baseline medical evaluations of U.S. personnel who request it, according to spokeswoman Heather Nauert.China’s top diplomat said officials there have been investigating the incident “in a very responsible matter” and that, so far, they haven’t found any individual or organization responsible.At a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington D.C. on Wednesday afternoon, China’s State Councilor Wang Yi said China will remain in communication with the U.S. over the incident, encouraged the U.S. to conduct its own investigation, and affirmed China’s commitment to the health and safety of foreigners, especially diplomats.But he also urged that the incident not be “magnified, complicated or politicized,” saying it shouldn’t be associated with other issues between the two nations.Pompeo praised China’s response, saying the country has offered to assist the U.S. investigation.“We have notified China of what took place as best we know it, and they have responded in a way that is exactly the right response,” Pompeo said.Speaking earlier on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Pompeo said that the reported symptoms in Guangzhou are "very similar and entirely consistent" to those experienced by U.S. embassy personnel staff in Cuba's capital city in 2016 and 2017.At least 24 Americans in Havana experienced a range of medically-confirmed neurological symptoms that have lasted for months, often after hearing a buzzing or piercing noise and feeling a sensation of pressure in their homes and hotel rooms. For many, the symptoms began around May 2017.Cuba has denied responsibility and has cast doubt on whether the American personnel did, in fact, suffer the reported symptoms, while the United States has countered that Cuban officials must know who is responsible.In response, the U.S. withdrew the majority of its staff at the Cuban embassy and expelled as many Cuban diplomats from Washington D.C.Pompeo also said that the State Department’s internal accountability review board will finalize its report sometime next week on how the agency handled the incidents in Cuba. His predecessor Rex Tillerson has been criticized for being s
    Read more...
  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In another sign of the heightened tensions over China's militarization of islands in the South China Sea, the United States has disinvited China from participating in an upcoming large-scale international naval exercise to be held off of Hawaii. Visiting Washington, China's foreign minister condemned the U.S. move calling it "very unconstructive" and "unhelpful."The move is in response to China's continued placement of military hardware on seven artificial islands in the Spratly Island chain that it claims as its territory."China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region," said Lt. Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman."As an initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea, we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise," he added. "China's behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise."Held every two years, this year's version of the RIMPAC exercise was to begin in late June and end in early August. The exercise is largest international Navy exercise, with 27 nations slated to participate in this year's version.China's navy participated in a limited role in the 2014 and 2016 versions of the exercise.The move to rescind the invitation to participate in this year's exercise is directly pegged to China's buildup of large-scale air and sea facilities on the seven artificial islands it has built up in the Spratly Islands.In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping made assurances to President Barack Obama that China was not seeking to militarize the islands, but satellite photos indicate China has consistently placed military equipment on the islands, and built up runways and port facilities that could be used by China's military."We believe these recent deployments and the continued militarization of these features is a violation of the promise that President Xi made to the United States and the World not to militarize the Spratly Islands," said Logan."We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea," said Logan. "China's landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions."Logan added that while China has claimed that the construction on the islands has been for peaceful purposes "the placement of these weapons systems is only for military use," said Logan. "We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features."The U.S. move was condemned by China's top diplomat who coincidentally was visiting Washington to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.State Councilor Wang Yi labeled the rescinding of the invitation "very unconstructive" and "unhelpful to mutual understanding.""We hope the U.S. will change such a negative mindset," he said at a press conference with Mike Pompeo. He added that both the U.S. and China are "big countries" and there should be "greater cooperation at mil-to-mil (military) exchanges to increase mutual trust."Wang also dismissed claims of "the so-called militarization" of the islands in the South China Sea."China is only building civilian and some necessary defense facilities on our own islands," he said. "That is the right to self-defense and preservation of every sovereign state," said Wang who compared the buildup to U.S. bases on Guam and Hawaii though on a "smaller scale" and only defensive in nature.While not addressing the rescinded invitation directly, Pompeo said the U.S. has "expressed consistent concern about militarization of the South China Sea. We had a chance to talk about that, and I will leave to our militaries to talk about their efforts together."News of the U.S. action was first reported by The Wall Street J
    Read more...
  • iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- As Saudi women are preparing to finally take the wheel in a month, as many as 10 women’s rights activists who campaigned for years for women’s right to drive, were arrested, leaving many inside and outside the country shocked and confused.The arrests targeted multiple generations of Saudi women’s rights activists, including iconic figures who first took part in driving protests in the 1990s, as well as younger activists. They were mostly women, but also included three men.The move puzzled most observers. Expanding freedoms accorded to women, including the historic decision to lift the world’s only ban on women driving, has been a pillar of the re-branding of Saudi Arabia that has accompanied the rise of the new Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman.Even embattled women’s rights activists had cautiously welcomed the new direction the country seemed to be headed in, but those hopes have been dealt a blow according to Manal Sharif, a high profile Saudi activist who lives in Australia. “My optimism has been dashed by the state-led public smearing campaign against the arrested activists” she wrote in the Washington Post. “Until these arrests, I had planned to return to Saudi Arabia on June 24 ... I have had to explain to [my son] over the phone why his mother is not coming in June, why the first-ever road trip that we planned will not become a reality.”The arrests were carried out by forces from what is known as the Presidency of State Security, a body that reports directly to the King and Crown Prince, according to Saudi media.“These arrests are an unfortunate mistake, I think. They’ve been trying to control what is a very politically sensitive and historic move, one that they worry could trigger backlash” said Firas Maksad a director of the Arabia Foundation, a DC-based think tank close to Saudi Arabia.Yet observers say that these arrests are not spur of the moment, given that shortly after the announcement of the lifting of the ban, many of the detained activists were ordered by authorities not to comment in the press.One of the detained, Loujain al Hathloul, told The Telegraph at the time, “Shutting up or submitting to these threats is unacceptable to me, it is not an option to stay quiet any more. We have been quiet for too long.”The day after news of the arrests broke, many Saudi newspapers called the detained activists “traitors” in their front-page stories and relayed a statement by the Ministry of Interior accusing them of conspiring with “foreign entities” to plot against national security.“Their motives have nothing to do with human rights activities at all, as they have used human rights activism as nothing but a cover to conceal their true actions” according to Salman Al-Ansari, the founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee.The Saudi government has still not responded to a request for comment by ABC News.
    Read more...
  • Airbus Defense and Space/38 North(SEOUL) -- North Korea is set to dismantle its nuclear testing facility at Punggye-ri this week in front of a delegation of two dozen handpicked foreign journalists.The journalists flew on a chartered plane Tuesday from Beijing to the city of Wonsan on the east coast of North Korea and were set to be taken on a long journey to the nuclear site near the village of Punggye-ri.From Wonsan, the group is expected to travel at least 11 hours on a train up the coast and another four hours into the foothills of Mount Mantap by bus and then finally an hourlong hike to the nuclear test site, according to reporters there.The research group 38 North said an analysis of satellite imagery taken Monday showed that what was probably an observation platform had nearly been completed at the test site and that improvements had been made to a nearby road and pathway. Another probable observation position had appeared to have been placed on a hillside there, the group said Tuesday.North Korean state media previously reported the dismantlement process will involve “collapsing all of its tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts” and that foreign media was invited to cover the event to show the process in a “transparent manner.”Journalists from the U.S., China, U.K. and Russia were among the small group invited to witness the process but The Associated Press reported eight South Korean journalists, who were initially invited, were refused visas after they arrived in Beijing to connect onward to North Korea. The decision coincided with latest protests from Pyongyang over the U.S.-South Korea military drills. No experts were among those invited.South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s government expressed regret over the decision to exclude their journalists just as Moon prepared to meet with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to discuss Trump’s planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. The meeting was scheduled for June 12, but Trump said Tuesday "it may not work out for" that day.Kim announced in April that he no longer needed to conduct nuclear tests because the country had achieved its "nuclear weaponization."Punggye-ri in the northeast of the country has been the site of every one of the six North Korean underground nuclear test from 2006 until the most recent one on Sept. 3, 2017.The facility is built into the granite base of Mount Mantap roughly 100 miles from North Korea’s border with China.
    Read more...
  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As the Trump administration tries to sell its rapidly-evolving trade deal with China to Congress, members of both parties are not convinced it’s in the best interest of the United States.Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday during which he pledged that any changes to penalties on the Chinese telecom ZTE, which is publicly traded but whose largest shareholder is an enterprise owned by the state, would not affect American national security.“I can assure you that whatever the Commerce Department decides, the intel community has been part of the briefings and we will ensure that we enforce national security issues,” Mnuchin said."This was not a quid pro quo or anything else," he added.Last month the United States slapped steep penalties on ZTE for violating U.S. sanctions and doing business with Iran and North Korea. Those infractions, along with concerns that ZTE could use its devices to spy on Americans, led to a seven-year ban on ZTE being allowed to purchase U.S. parts in production, crippling its business. ZTE also agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine.Now, however, members of the administration have signaled that the terms of ZTE’s punishment are up for negotiation. President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that China had agreed to buy an unspecified amount of American agricultural exports in exchange for the United States easing its sanctions.And in remarks at the White House Tuesday, Trump said he envisioned ZTE having to pay another fine, plus installing a new board and management structure, in exchange for sanctions relief.But he didn't get into many details, saying, "I don't like to talk about deals until they're done. So we'll see what happens."Trump also noted that ZTE buys most of its parts from American companies, meaning those firms get caught in the crossfire and lose business."When you do that, you're really hurting American companies, also. So I'm looking at it," he said.But vague assurances that China will buy more farm products aren't good enough for some lawmakers, especially those from states that depend heavily on agricultural exports. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told reporters he had met with farmers and ranchers in his office all morning and that none of them believed this latest development would help them.“They’re scared to death,” Sasse said, adding that he would “love to see the particulars" of the China proposal that Trump mentioned in his tweet.Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services, before which Mnuchin testified Tuesday, tried to ask him more about the specifics of the China arrangement, but he deferred to the Commerce Department, led by Secretary Wilbur Ross, who he said had taken the lead on the talks.But Mnuchin has participated in those discussions, and Sen. Chris Coons, the ranking member on the committee, said he was disappointed Mnuchin didn’t answer questions more directly.“I think Sec. Mnuchin is well aware of decisions being made by the Trump administration with regard to ZTE. He simply passed the buck over to the Secretary of Commerce who wasn't in front of us today,” Coons said.As the administration continues to send mixed signals on the status of the negotiations, lawmakers are wasting no time preparing legislation to potentially check Trump’s authority to lift sanctions on ZTE.The House of Representatives is voting this week on its annual defense authorization bill which contains a provision which would prevent the military from working with contractors that use ZTE devices and networks. The Pentagon has already banned ZTE products from being sold on American military bases.House and Senate committees are also working on bills to prohibit the Trump administration from unilaterally lifting the seven-year ban on ZTE’s ability to purchase U.S. supplies. The Senate measure, introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.,
    Read more...