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Washington, D.C. — House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) and House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY) are pressing Secretary of State Antony Blinken for information about the State Department’s efforts to end the detainment of U.S. diplomats in COVID-19 quarantine camps in the People’s Republic of China. Lead Republicans McCaul and Comer are calling for the preservation of documents related to the request and a briefing on efforts to protect U.S. personnel in China against counter-intelligence efforts.

 

Below is the text of the letter to Secretary Blinken. The full letter can be found here.

 

September 29, 2022

 

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

 

Dear Secretary Blinken:

We write to request more information from the U.S. Department of State (Department) on efforts to end the detainment of U.S. diplomats in COVID-19 quarantine camps in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and reestablish reciprocity in diplomatic relations more broadly.  We ask that you preserve all documentation related to this request.

U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing recently confirmed that 16 U.S. diplomats and their family members—throughout the pandemic—have been involuntarily held in quarantine camps and subjected to strict confinement measures with no definitive release date. Committee Republicans are concerned that U.S diplomats could be or have been pressured to surrender intelligence while detained in PRC quarantine camps. We must ensure the protection of all Americans abroad—especially those who have access to classified information—and put an end to the undignified detainment of U.S. diplomats. 

The confinement of U.S. diplomats in the PRC raises grave national security concerns. The PRC poses a geopolitical threat to the United States and should not be coercing U.S. diplomats into and surveilling them under draconian quarantine policies. According to The Washington Post as well as internal correspondence whistleblowers have provided to Congress, the PRC engaged in a sustained campaign to deprive U.S. diplomats of their liberties under the guise of COVID-19 containment. For example, the PRC reportedly has improperly tested U.S. diplomats for conditions and diseases other than COVID-19, isolated families with young children in a fever clinic for lengthy periods and attempted to separate quarantined children from their parents.

Unfortunately, these extreme containment measures are part of the PRC’s attempt to undermine United States national security and undermine basic reciprocity in diplomatic relations.  According to a report the Department provided to Congress,“[t]hrough a sustained harassment and intimidation campaign, the PRC government discourages its citizens from participating in routine public diplomacy programs and U.S. government funded exchanges.” The PRC also controls (and substantially restricts) U.S. diplomatic access to local officials and researchers through its Foreign Affairs Office (FAO) program. Further, as has been documented comprehensively in recent years, the PRC state has directed or supported the theft of trillions of dollars of U.S. companies’ intellectual property and troves of invaluable intelligence to narrow the technological capacity gap between itself and the U.S. Sometimes this “cool war” has deadly consequences. During the Obama Administration, for example, China reportedly executed over 30 American intelligence sources. Given that troubling reality, it is reasonable to wonder and worry about the threats posed by the PRC to U.S. diplomats while they are or were being involuntarily and unjustly quarantined, ostensibly under the guise of COVID-19 protocols.

To assist the Republicans on the Oversight Committee in conducting oversight of the Department’s efforts to protect its personnel in China against counter-intelligence efforts, we request a staff-level briefing as soon as possible but no later than October 6, 2022.

Thank you for your consideration of this important issue. To make arrangements to schedule the briefing or ask any related follow-up questions, please contact Committee on Oversight and Reform Republican Staff at (202) 225-5074. The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the principal oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate “any matter” at “any time” under House Rule X. Please also keep the Committee on Foreign Affairs (HFAC) courtesy copied on any correspondence. Thank you in advance for your cooperation with this inquiry.