US ConGen Hong Kong: A 999-Year Lease

 

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@StateDept Announces the Passing of U.S. Ambassador to Brunei Matthew J. Matthews

On May 20, 2020, the State Department announced the passing of  the U.S. Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Matthew J. Matthews.

Via US Embassy BSB:

Matthew J. Matthews was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam on March 29, 2019. Matt was most recently U.S. Ambassador for APEC and concurrently the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands from June 2015 to March 2019. From 2013 to 2015, he served as the Foreign Policy Advisor to Admiral Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and as the Deputy Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong from 2010 to 2013. Matt focused on multilateral trade agreements as the Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2007-10), and at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia (2004-07). His earlier postings include two tours in Beijing, two tours in Taipei, Islamabad, Hong Kong, and Washington, DC. He speaks fluent Mandarin.

Matt grew up in Portland, Oregon. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon, attended the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies in Taipei, and earned a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. He is married to Rachel Lin Matthews and has two adult children who reside in the United States.

Ambassador Matthews is a career diplomat and a member of the Senior Foreign Service.  His deputy at the US Embassy in Brunei Darussalam is Scott E. Woodard who arrived in Brunei in August 2017 to take up his current position as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan.

Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s Evacuation and Life in Quarantine (Via @StateMag)

 

Featured in the  April 2020 issue of State Magazine (published by the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources) is an article by Russell J. Westergard, the deputy consular chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan, China.
Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s evacuation and life in quarantine

By mid-October 2019, the dedicated team at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan knew that the city had been struck by what was thought to be an unusually vicious flu season. The disease worsened in November. When city officials began to close public schools in mid-December to control the spread of the disease, the team passed the word to Embassy Beijing and continued monitoring. The possibility of a new viral outbreak was always on the consulate’s radar. Still, the working assumption in every scenario had always been that, as in past outbreaks like H1N1 (known as swine flu), it would appear in rural areas first and then spread to major urban centers across China. 

When the Chinese government announced on December 29th that the new and novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had been identified and traced to a live animal market near the U.S. consulate, it caught the team’s attention. Four hectic weeks later, ConGen Wuhan closed under ordered departure with the consulate team pulling off what some people involved have since described as a minor miracle. Consulate staff found themselves at the airport of a paralyzed city preparing to evacuate family members and other U.S. citizens from what would turn out to be ground zero of a deadly global pandemic.

Fast forward to the second week in February. As the ConGen Wuhan team, family members, and the rest of the 195 passengers on board that first flight from Wuhan concluded their 14-day quarantine at the March Air Reserve Base (ARB) in Southern California, the joy and a collective sigh of relief were audible.

Read in full here.

 

Two Charter Flights From #DiamondPrincess Depart Tokyo, Few “High Risk” Patients Now in Nebraska

 

The U.S.  Embassy in Tokyo announced that on February 17 at 0705 JST, two charter flights carrying passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship departed Tokyo en route to the United States.
This letter was sent to American passengers and crew on Sunday morning. It includes details on the repatriation operation as well as information for those who opts not to board. Letter in part says “Based on the high number of COVID-19 cases identified onboard the Diamond Princess, the Department of Health and Human Services made an assessment that passengers and crew members onboard are at high risk of exposure. Given this assessment, the U.S. Government is chartering these flights to minimize the risks to your health going forward.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a statement on repatriation of American passengers and crew.
The letter further notes that passengers on the chartered aircraft will be quarantined in the United States at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California or Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas for 14 days upon arrival. However, it looks like the two flights initially landed in California and Texas, then proceeded to Nebraska with a few patients considered “high risk.”. One local report says that “13 Americans who were on the cruise ship in Japan arrived in Omaha today.”

The Philippines Sends USG Notice of Military-Pact Termination #VFA #180days

 

Via Rappler (Philippines):

On Monday night, February 10, Duterte launched a fresh round of verbal tirades against the US saying while top officials, including President Donald Trump, were trying to salvage the VFA, he was bent on having it terminated. (EXPLAINER: Visiting Forces Agreement)

Duterte first broached his plan to terminate the VFA on January 23, after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Dela Rosa is Duterte’s first Philippine National Police chief known as the architect behind the government’s bloody anti-drug campaign.

The President later said he was serious about his decision, adding his choice to do so was anchored on US lawmakers’ moves to impose travel and financial restrictions on Philippine officials linked to the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima and alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under the Duterte administration. (READ: Why the Global Magnitsky Act matters to the Philippines)

 

U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau on ‘Voluntary Departure’ Over Covid19 Outbreak

 

On February 11, the State Department issued a Level 2 Exercise Increase Caution for the Hong Kong and Macau. The announcement includes public notice of the voluntary evacuation order of February 10 for the consulate general’s non-emergency staff and and their family members due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China (now officially called covid19).  Excerpt below:

Exercise Increased Caution due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.  Read the entire Travel Advisory.

A novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness that began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The Hong Kong government has reported cases of the novel coronavirus in its special administrative region, has upgraded its response level to emergency, its highest response level, and is taking other steps to manage the novel Coronavirus outbreak. On February 8, the Hong Kong government began enforcing a compulsory 14-day quarantine for anyone, regardless of nationality, arriving in Hong Kong who has visited mainland China within a 14-day period. This quarantine does not apply to individuals transiting Hong Kong International Airport and certain exempted groups such as flight crews. However, health screening measures are in place at all of Hong Kong’s borders and the Hong Kong authorities will quarantine individual travelers, including passengers transiting the Hong Kong International Airport, if the Hong Kong authorities determine the traveler to be a health risk. Please refer to the Hong Kong government’s press release for further details.

On January 30, the Hong Kong government temporarily closed certain transportation links and border checkpoints connecting Hong Kong with mainland China and on February 3 suspended ferry services from Macau.

On February 10, 2020 the Department of State allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members due to the novel coronavirus and the impact to Mission personnel as schools and some public facilities have been closed until further notice.

The Department of State has raised the Travel Advisory for mainland China to Level 4: Do Not Travel due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Warning:  Avoid all nonessential travel to China.

Full advisory available here.

 

@StateDept Evacuation Flights From China Heads to Military Bases in CA, CO, TX For 14-Day Quarantine

 

The State Department issued a health alert on February 4 indicating that it “may be staging additional evacuation flights with capacity for private U.S. citizens on a reimbursable basis, leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on February 6, 2020. The alert notes that evacuees from Hubei Province will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.

“In accordance with the Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus, beginning at 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Sunday, February 2, the United States government will implement temporary measures to increase our abilities to detect and contain the coronavirus proactively and aggressively.  Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening.” 

Military bases in California, Colorado and Texas are currently preparing to accommodate up to 1,000 people who will be quarantined upon arrival. U.S. Northern Command announced that it is expecting 350 inbound passengers in the “initial flights” destined for Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, both in California.
Also see Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

 

@StateDept Prepares to Evacuate USCG Wuhan Personnel on 1/28, Limited Seats Available to Private U.S. Citizens

 

On January 23, the State Department issued a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” Travel Advisory for China, which includes a “Level 4: Do not travel to Hubei province, China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.” The Travel Advisory also notes that “on January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province.”
On January 26, the State Department announced that it is making arrangements to evacuate personnel from the US Consulate General in Wuhan to San Francisco, CA on Tuesday, January 28. There will be a single flight with limited seating capacity on a reimbursable basis for U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens interested are advised to contact BeijingACS@state.gov with passport details. The announcement also states that “… if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus.”
U.S. Mission China is one of the largest operations in the world. It includes the embassy in Beijing and consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan. We understand that Consulate General Wuhan was expected to open for American citizen services and nonimmigrant visa services in 2018 but its website currently says:

The U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan is not yet open for consular services.  Our new office is currently under construction.  Construction is scheduled for completion in 2020.

OIG inspection of US Mission China notes that as of May 2017, the mission had representatives from 33 U.S. Government agencies and an authorized staff of 729 U.S. direct-hire employees and 168 American locally hired employees and 1,807 non-American locally employed (LE) staff members.
We’re not sure at this time how many direct-hire U.S. employee and family members are located in Wuhan or how many emergency staffers would be left at post. USCG Wuhan website notes that there is a consul general and his wife, a public affairs officer (family?) and a Department of Commerce’s commercial service office (officer?) at post. We will update this when we know more.
The travel advisory issued last Thursday indicate that there was an “ordered departure” issued for non-emergency personnel and their family members. The Health Alert issued by Consular Affairs on Sunday says that the State Department is evacuating its personnel stationed in Wuhan; we’re not sure if that means all its personnel or just the non-emergency personnel and family members. There is no notice at this time that USCG Wuhan is suspending operation or on temporary closure.

 

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Was it the Mustache or the $5Billion Demand For U.S. Military Forces #furloughwarning

 

Ambassador Harry Harris was originally nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to Australia in February 2018. The nomination was withdrawn by May 2018 and he was nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea the same month. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 28, 2018  by voice vote. He arrived in Seoul in July that year, and made his first public appearance on July 7, 2018.
As far as we could tell, he’s been sporting that mustache since he arrived in Seoul almost two years ago.  We did not hear about the mustache in 2018, so it has to be more than the mustache when the bad press started in the later part of 2019. If he was pestering the host country to pay up for the cost of U.S. troops in the country, that could do it. He’s not a career diplomat but he was a career military official. That means whatever he’s doing is blessed by his chain of command in Foggy Bottom. Or by the guy talking loudly on Twitter.
So apparently, the United States originally demanded $5 billion in payment for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Now it’s down to slightly under a billion or else. Bloomberg is reporting that the USG will send furlough notices within weeks to the base workers if no deal is made.

U.S. officials have indicated they’ve backed off Trump’s initial demand that President Moon Jae-in’s administration pay about $5 billion a year for U.S. forces stationed there, more than five times the $900 million in a stopgap one-year agreement that expired on Dec. 31.[…]U.S. officials say they are required to give those workers 60 days’ advance notice that their pay might be cut off because the last of the funds under the previous deal is running out.

Watch out. This is the same Administration which shut down the Federal Government for 35 days from December 22, 2018 until January 25, 2019 making it the record holder of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.