US seeks to reassure diplomats returning to Beijing after uproar

Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — The State Department is seeking to reassure dozens of diplomats who are preparing to return to Beijing that China won’t be given total control over their coronavirus testing and that children and other family members won’t be separated if they are found positive, according to several people familiar with the matter.

In a series of emails and other cables to staff, including one sent Sunday night, the American Embassy in Beijing has sought to respond to growing concern among the first wave of American diplomats who are preparing to return to China next month as the U.S. seeks to redeploy to outposts around the world.

Concerns have been expressed that China would control testing — possibly gaining access to diplomats’ DNA samples — and that family members might be separated in quarantine, according to a dozen American diplomats, all of whom asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The blowback and mistrust had been fierce on private Facebook groups for diplomats and their families, where stories have been traded that some Americans among a first group of returnees were stuck in a Chinese quarantine hotel for more than two weeks.

But now emails sent to staff indicate that U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad, who has been in talks with Chinese officials over the Americans’ return, has won some concessions. In one such email this month, obtained by Bloomberg News, the State Department said that while it can’t yet guarantee families won’t be separated, charter planes will fly to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai because they have “family-appropriate policies,” and won’t travel there if those commitments are in doubt.

The emails say that anyone forced into isolation will be met with “an arsenal of support staff,” including help from Branstad.

The State Department has also told staff that Chinese testing for the coronavirus will be anonymous to make sure China isn’t able to collect DNA samples from particular individuals.


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