BEIJING — The State Department issued a health alert on Friday to American citizens living or traveling in China, advising them to seek medical attention if they experienced “auditory or sensory phenomena” similar to those experienced by American diplomats evacuated to the United States.
The alert, posted on the department’s website, said those who suspected that they had such symptoms should not try to locate the source of any “unidentified auditory sensation” and should seek medical care as soon as possible.
More than two million American citizens travel to China each year, and about 175,000 Americans hold Chinese resident visas.
The advisory came after at least two employees at the United States Consulate in the southern city of Guangzhou, who showed symptoms similar to those suffered by American diplomats in Cuba in 2016, were flown out this week for testing by specialists at the University of Pennsylvania.
The diplomats have complained of symptoms that are similar to those “following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury” and that seem to have been the result of strange sounds, the State Department has said.
In April, the first diplomat to be evacuated from Guangzhou complained of hearing odd sounds and experiencing headaches and dizziness. American diplomats had experienced similar symptoms in Cuba, and the United States said the Americans were targets of “specific attacks” there.
American investigators initially said that the illnesses in Cuba could have been the result of a “sonic attack.”
A medical team was sent by the State Department to the consulate in Guangzhou last Friday, and has been conducting tests on diplomats and their family members who request them.
The State Department has not specified the exact number of diplomats evacuated from the consulate after tests this week, saying only that “other individuals” have left.
American officials declined to say when the testing in Guangzhou would conclude. Those who need further examination in the United States have been sent to the University of Pennsylvania Center for Brain Injury and Repair, where researchers examined the cases from Cuba.
The consulate serves as a busy center for issuing visas for Chinese citizens traveling to the United States. Many of the diplomats are on their first and second postings overseas and have young children who are also being screened if their parents ask.
American officials have suggested that Russia was involved in the targeting of the diplomats in Cuba, and possibly also in Guangzhou, perhaps with the tacit knowledge of the Chinese.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that China would be willing to help the United States uncover the causes of the mystery illness, saying it took its obligations to protect diplomats seriously.
Global Times, a nationalist state-run Chinese newspaper that enjoys taunting the United States, took Washington to task in an editorial on Friday, saying that Americans needed to look at home before blaming others.
“We recommend that the U.S. should not come to a conclusion too quickly that their consulate employees are attacked by external actors, but should conduct an investigation to look for an internal cause,” the editorial said. The United States should drop its “enemy mentality,” it added.
Diplomats from other countries posted in China had not reported experiencing the “weird disease,” the editorial said.
“This is very strange,” it added. “It’s hard for Chinese people to believe that any foreign organization can conduct this kind of behavior on Chinese soil while avoiding all monitoring and not leaving any clue.”