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Instructors from American universities teaching in China attacked in a park

BEIJING –

Chinese police have arrested a suspect in the stabbing attack on four instructors from Cornell College in Iowa who taught at the Chinese university in the northeastern city of Jilin, officials said Tuesday.

Jilin City Police said a 55-year-old man surnamed Cui was walking in a public park on Monday when he bumped into a foreigner. Police said he stabbed the foreigner and three other foreigners who were with him, and also stabbed a Chinese man who approached him in an attempt to intervene.

Instructors from Cornell College taught at Beihua University, U.S. school officials said.

The injured were taken to hospital for treatment, and none of them were in critical condition, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said at his daily briefing on Tuesday. He said that based on a preliminary assessment, police believe the attack in Beishan Park in Jilin city was an isolated incident and an investigation is ongoing.

Cornell College President Jonathan Brand said in a statement that the instructors were attacked in the park along with a lecturer from Beihua, which is in a peripheral part of Jilin, an industrial city about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) northeast of Beijing. Monday was a public holiday in China.

The State Department said in a statement that it was aware of reports of a stabbing and was monitoring the situation. The attack came as Beijing and Washington sought to expand people-to-people exchanges to help strengthen ties amid tensions over trade and international issues such as Taiwan, the South China Sea and the war in Ukraine.

The Iowa state legislator posted a statement on Instagram saying his brother David Zabner was injured in a stabbing attack in Jilin. Congressman Adam Zabner described his brother as a graduate student at Tufts University who was in China as part of the Cornell-Beihua relationship.

“I talked to David a few minutes ago, he is recovering from his injuries and doing well,” wrote Adam Zabner, adding that his brother was grateful for the care he received at the hospital.

News of the incident was suppressed in China, where the government controls any information considered sensitive. The media did not report about it. Some social media accounts posted reports in foreign media about the attack, but the hashtag on the subject was blocked on the popular website and photos and videos from the event were quickly deleted.

Cornell spokeswoman Jen Visser said in an email that the university was still gathering information about what happened.

Visser said the private college in Mount Vernon, Iowa, is working with Beihua University. A 2018 press release from the university when the program launched said Beihua was providing funding for Cornell professors to travel to China to teach some computer science, math and physics courses for two weeks.

According to a 2020 post on the Beihua website, a Chinese university uses American teaching methods and resources to provide engineering students with an international perspective and English language skills.

About one-third of the core courses in the program use American textbooks and are taught by American professors, according to the post. Students can apply to college for two years of a four-year degree at Cornell College and receive degrees from both institutions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has unveiled a plan to invite 50,000 young Americans to China over the next five years, although Chinese diplomats say the US State Department’s travel advisory has discouraged Americans from visiting China.

Citing arbitrary detentions and travel bans that could prevent Americans from leaving the country, the State Department issued a Level 3 travel advisory – the second highest warning level – for mainland China. Urges Americans to “reconsider traveling” to China.

Some US universities have suspended their programs in China due to travel advisories.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin said China has taken effective measures to protect the safety of foreigners. “We believe that this isolated incident will not disrupt normal cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries,” he said.

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Tang reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.