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More Americans evacuated from China over mysterious ailments

Americans employed at the United States Consulate in Guangzhou, China, have reported mysterious symptoms similar to those experienced by diplomats in Cuba. Photo: The New York Times

The State Department has evacuated at least 11 Americans from China after abnormal sounds or sensations were reported by government employees at the United States Consulate in the southern city of Guangzhou, officials said, deepening a mystery that has so far confounded investigators.

At least eight Americans associated with the consulate in Guangzhou have now been evacuated, according to one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

In addition, one employee from the consulate in Shanghai and two from the embassy in Beijing were sent to the United States for further medical tests after undergoing examinations that the department encouraged when the first report of illnesses in Guangzhou surfaced in April, the official said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in a telephone call that otherwise focused on the diplomacy surrounding North Korea’s nuclear program, according to a statement released Friday morning in Beijing.

The cases in Guangzhou — and now possibly Shanghai and Beijing — are similar to a wave of illnesses that struck Americans working at the embassy in Havana, Cuba, beginning in fall 2016. Another American there was reported last week to have symptoms, bringing the total number of those afflicted by what have been described as “sonic attacks” to 25.

It remains unclear whether the cases in Shanghai and Beijing — which have not been previously reported — were related to what officials described as “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure” experienced at an apartment tower in Guangzhou where a number of consulate employees live.

The sounds and sensations in Cuba, and now China, have been variously attributed to sophisticated electronic eavesdropping efforts or a form of aural harassment, with some pointing fingers at Russia or China. Other experts have raised the possibility of environmental factors or even mass hysteria.

American officials in China declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries. But in a written response on Saturday, the State Department said that “several staff and family members” had been sent to the United States for further evaluation. The statement suggested that some might have been evacuated for “other unrelated issues.”

The statement said that only one of those evacuated so far had been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury: the first employee who was evacuated in April after complaining of health issues caused by the sounds and sensations.

Some of those evacuated have been sent to the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, where researchers examined the cases from Cuba. State Department spokesmen would not elaborate.

After the injuries appeared in Cuba, the Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats, saying Cuban officials had failed to adequately protect American diplomats. But the government there denied any involvement.

So have the Chinese. The department’s statement on Friday referred to “ongoing cooperation” with the Chinese in investigating “the health-related incident” in Guangzhou.

After the cases surfaced there, senior officials from the department flew to China to investigate, while Mr. Pompeo appointed a committee to review “unexplained health incidents” affecting American diplomats and employees abroad. The deputy secretary of state, John J. Sullivan, is leading the review, assisted by representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, but officials have said they remain flummoxed.

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