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US voices concern as China investigates attack on American teachers


FILE - Tourists walk past a gateway with the name "Beishan" seen at the Beishan Park in northeastern China's Jilin province, Jan. 23, 2020. Four instructors from Iowa's Cornell College who were teaching at Beihua University were attacked, reportedly with a knife, June 10, 2024.
FILE - Tourists walk past a gateway with the name "Beishan" seen at the Beishan Park in northeastern China's Jilin province, Jan. 23, 2020. Four instructors from Iowa's Cornell College who were teaching at Beihua University were attacked, reportedly with a knife, June 10, 2024.

As Chinese authorities investigate Monday's attack on four instructors from a U.S. college in northeastern China and the motives of a 55-year-old suspect now in custody, U.S. officials are voicing their concern about the incident.

"We are deeply concerned by the stabbing of U.S. citizens in Jilin City, China," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday in a post on X.

Sullivan went on to add that U.S. officials have been in touch with the instructors and Washington's counterparts in China "to ensure that the victims' needs are met, and appropriate law enforcement steps are being taken."

Nicholas Burns, U.S. ambassador to China, voiced similar sentiment in a post on X.

"I am angered and deeply troubled by the stabbing of 3 US citizens + a non-citizen resident of Iowa in Jilin, China," he said. Burns added that a U.S. consular officer had visited the four in the hospital on Tuesday.

China's Foreign Ministry, which confirmed the attack on Tuesday, said none of the victims' injuries were life-threatening. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that they were in touch with local authorities and are monitoring the situation closely.

Speaking at a regular news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said: "All the injured were immediately sent to the hospital and received proper treatment."

Chinese person also stabbed

The attack occurred on Monday, a holiday, while four teachers from Cornell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa, were walking through a park. The four were in China in a partnership with a local university. A fifth person, who was Chinese, was stabbed when they tried to stop the attack, police said.

The incident occurred during the daytime in Beishan Park, home to multiple ancient temples. The victims were accompanied by a member of Beihua University.

According to a statement from the Public Security Bureau of Jilin's Chuanying District, the suspect in the attack's surname is Cui. Local police later released a note that identified the man as Cui Dapeng, a resident of Longtan District in Jilin City. Authorities said Cui attacked the group after one of them bumped into him.

China's Foreign Ministry says the attack was an isolated incident. At the briefing on Tuesday, spokesperson Lin also said he did not think the incident would impact the "normal development of China-U.S. people-to-people exchanges."

While relations between the U.S. and China remain strained over a range of issues from trade and human rights to Taiwan and the South China Sea, the two have been trying to boost people-to-people ties.

During the pandemic, tourism to China dropped significantly, and the number of American students studying in the country plummeted. The U.S. State Department recommends citizens "reconsider travel" over a range of concerns from arbitrary enforcement of laws to the risk of wrongful detentions.

Analysts say it is still too early to say how much of an impact the incident might have.

Impact of incident unknown

Clayton Dube, the director of the University of Southern California's U.S.- China Institute, says "there is still much to be learned before we can properly assess the immediate and potential impact of this assault."

"If it turns out that the initial official Chinese account of the attack is corroborated by the Americans and others, I don't expect this to have a significant impact on Americans electing to travel to or study or work in China," Dube said.

"Most Americans visiting, studying or working in China will be safe and have positive experiences," he said. "But they too should exercise caution and good judgment to further minimize the risks."

Sofia Sevak, a student at Johns Hopkins University traveling to China as part of a fellowship with the China Education Association for International Exchange, said she was concerned after hearing about the attack.

"This attack definitely gave me pause – it's unsettling," she told VOA. "But knowing that the authorities have labeled it an isolated incident helps put it into perspective."

Sevak said she thinks it's important to not let one negative event color her entire perception of Chinese-American relations.

"It's no secret that both nations have had their share of misunderstandings and conflicts," she said. "But at the end of the day, these exchanges – like the one I'm about to embark on – are about building bridges, not burning them."

A Johns Hopkins student who plans to travel to China this summer and wished to remain anonymous so he could speak more freely with VOA, said the incident did not give him too much cause for concern.

"I think it's something to take note of, but it appears to be an isolated incident rather than a symptom of a larger and more concerning issue," he said. "My parents have not seen the news of the attack, and I believe that bringing it to my mother's attention would only cause unnecessary stress."

He said he thinks China is generally safe.

"I think there are inherent risks posed when traveling to any urban area or foreign country, so it is important to take necessary precautions," he said. "As a citizen of the United States, I am primarily concerned with following Chinese laws and avoiding any actions that could get me into trouble with the Chinese government."