State Dept says it ‘never agreed’ to China giving US diplomats COVID-19 anal tests

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Chinese officials who forced American diplomats to undergo an anal swab for COVID-19 testing did so “in error,” the State Department told The Hill on Thursday, as Beijing denies it conducted the tests at all. 

The Washington Post reported last week that U.S. officials had said some American personnel in China complained that they were being subjected to anal swab tests for coronavirus by Chinese authorities.

A State spokesperson responded to a request for comment from The Hill by saying that the department “never agreed” to such tests and had protested directly to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs following complaints from staff. 

“The State Department never agreed to this method of testing and protested directly to the MFA [Ministry for Foreign Affairs] when we learned that some U.S. Mission personnel were subjected to it,” the spokesperson said. “We have received assurances from MFA that this testing was conducted in error and that diplomatic personnel are exempt from this requirement. Our guidance to diplomatic personnel remains the same as it has always been: to decline this test if it is asked of them.”

The spokesperson added that, “The Department is committed to guaranteeing the safety and security of American diplomats and their families while preserving their dignity, consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as well as other relevant diplomatic law provisions.”

But a spokesperson for the MFA, in a briefing with reporters earlier on Thursday, denied the tests ever took place.

“I checked this with my colleagues. As far as I know, China has never asked U.S. diplomats stationed in China to do anal swab tests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in response to a question in a briefing with reporters. 

Chinese authorities began popularizing the anal swab tests to detect coronavirus beginning last month as part of efforts to identify carriers of the disease that may test negative from less invasive throat and nasal swabs. Yet it has reportedly received pushback over the highly invasive nature of the test and inconvenience.

The diplomatic dispute over the method of COVID-19 testing adds another level to historically low relations between Washington and Beijing, which turned largely confrontational under the former Trump administration.

While President Biden spoke with Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier this month, the president has talked about a relationship of extreme competition with China amid concerns over human rights abuses and assertive military actions in the Indo-Pacific.

Yet administration officials have also expressed interest in cooperation on global challenges such as combatting COVID-19, climate change and preventing nuclear weapons proliferation. 

—Updated at 6:33 p.m.

Tags anal swab tests China COVID-19 Joe Biden United States
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