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China park stabbing: US envoy 'angered' by attack on American instructors, tourist

Washington's envoy to Beijing said on Tuesday that he was "angered and deeply troubled" by a knife attack on four instructors from an Iowa college, an incident that China's foreign ministry has said is under investigation.

The ministry confirmed earlier that the instructors from Cornell College had been attacked in a park in the northeastern province of Jilin on Monday, calling it an isolated incident and playing down concerns about any impact on bilateral relations.

"I am angered and deeply troubled by the stabbing of 3 US citizens + a non-citizen resident of Iowa in Jilin, China," Ambassador Nicholas Burns said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

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"A US Consular Officer visited the 4 in Jilin Hospital today where they are receiving treatment," Burns said. "We are doing all we can to help them and hope for their full & speedy recovery."

Ministry spokesman Lin Jian told reporters on Tuesday that police were investigating after the Americans, from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, were stabbed in a park in the province's Jilin city.

Lin said that initial investigations had concluded it was an "isolated incident [that] would not affect the normal development of China-US cultural exchanges".

A local man surnamed Cui, 55, had been taken into custody for the attack, Jilin city police said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

Police said that the assault happened on Monday morning as Cui was walking in Beishan Park and "collided with a foreigner, then stabbed the foreigner with a knife and three other foreigners who were with him". A Chinese tourist who tried to stop the attack was also injured.

"The injured have all received proper medical treatment and are not in life-threatening conditions. The case is under further investigation," the police statement said.

The US State Department said earlier that it was monitoring the situation, which was previously confirmed by Cornell College's president Jonathan Brand in a statement to Associated Press.

According to one of the victims' family members, speaking to Iowa Public Radio, the instructors were recovering in a local hospital.

CNN reported on Tuesday that the injured included David Zabner, the brother of Iowa state representative Adam Zabner.

Jilin city is home to Beihua University, which has had a cooperative relationship with the private academy since 2018, according to Cornell's website.

A State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday that the department was aware of reports of the incident, was monitoring the situation and had "no further comments at this time".

The motive for the attack is not clear. Videos and photos circulating on social media showed four injured foreigners lying on the ground, with police and bystanders nearby.

Nearly all the images and discussion of the incident have since been removed in China, where social media platforms are heavily censored.

The park where the stabbing is alleged to have occurred is 1km (just over half a mile) from government offices. An officer at the nearest police station said on Tuesday that he had "no comment" when asked about the incident.

Hu Xijin, the outspoken former chief editor of nationalist newspaper Global Times, said on social media platform X that he "condemned" the attack.

"Regardless of the attacker's motive, this incident is an isolated case in the broader context of Chinese society," he said, adding that the public's "general sentiment toward foreign tourists in marketplaces and tourist spots [in China] is friendly".

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said in a post on X that she was in contact with Iowa's federal delegation and the US State Department "in response to this horrifying attack".

Also on X, US Representative Mariannette Jane Miller-Meeks from Iowa said "we are working through proper channels and requesting to speak with the US embassy on appropriate matters to ensure that the victims first receive quality care for their injuries and then get out of China in a medically feasible manner".

According to the Cornell College website, Beihua provides funding for Cornell professors to spend two weeks in China teaching courses, including computer science, mathematics and physics.

Monday was a public holiday in China, when many people travel. Beishan Park, where the attack took place, is a popular tourist attraction in Jilin city, which is home to about 4 million people.

The attack comes as China is trying to attract foreign tourists back to the country after strict Covid-19 controls were eased. Measures introduced by Beijing include visa-free arrangements for tourists from more countries and easier mobile payments and hotel services.

The incident also comes amid efforts by Beijing and Washington to ease tensions in their technological and ideological competition through cultural exchanges.

In November, President Xi Jinping said China was ready to invite 50,000 young Americans for exchanges and study in the country over the next five years.

The outreach followed an agreement between Xi and US President Joe Biden to promote expanded educational, student, youth, cultural, sports and business exchanges, reached during their summit in California last year.

Additional reporting by Robert Delaney in Washington

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2024 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2024. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.