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American and Chinese flags are pictured. | AP Photo

U.S. flag and China’s flag flutter in winds at a hotel in Beijing Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in Beijing to press Chinese authorities to agree to peacefully resolve disputes with their smaller neighbors over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But as she began her meetings here, China questioned the stated neutrality of the United States. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) | Andy Wong/AP Photo

By SARAH ZHENG | SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

This story is being published by POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on SCMP on July 26, 2018.

An explosive device was detonated outside the US embassy in Beijing on Thursday afternoon, shrouding the capital’s diplomatic district in white smoke and leaving blood and broken glass outside the American compound.

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The US embassy said no staff were injured in the explosion, which erupted at around 1pm on the street outside the southeast corner of the embassy compound.

Witnesses said the blast occurred near the area where Chinese citizens line up for US visas, and could be heard from nearby embassies.

A US embassy spokeswoman said the blast was from a bomb.

Beijing police said they believed the explosion was the result of “fireworks” by a 26-year-old man, identified by his surname Jiang, from Inner Mongolia. In Mandarin, “fireworks” is a broad term that can refer to anything from fire crackers to explosives.

Without referring to the embassy, the police said the explosion took place at the intersection of Tianze and Anjialou roads. Jiang was sent to the hospital after suffering minor hand injuries, and the incident was under investigation, police said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the explosion was an isolated incident, and police were handling it.

The US embassy said in a statement: “According to the embassy’s regional security officer, there was one individual who detonated a bomb. Other than the bomber, there were no injuries.”

A student surnamed Li, from eastern China’s Zhejiang province, said he was lining up to apply for a visa at the embassy when the blast occurred.

“I heard a really loud noise, similar to a gun salute, less than 100 metres away from where I was,” he said. “Everyone began running, and I was also pushed to run forward. I was very scared. When I turned around to look, there was white smoke as high as an electric pole.

“We were corralled into the visa line area, and then after a while, everything inside was normal again.”

A woman surnamed Tang said she arrived at the embassy at around 1.30pm to apply for visa, and the roads were blocked by police.

Services were soon resumed at the embassy.

Shri Acquino Vimal, deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy in Beijing, about 150 metres from the US compound, said he heard “a low, short-intensity blast from outside” at around 1pm.

Another person working near the US embassy also reported hearing “one very loud sound” just after 1pm.

Witness Li Lin said she had been at the scene to with someone else to apply for a US visa.

“I heard a bang, and then saw smoke rolling through the air,” Li said. “We were afraid to get too close, but we heard people yelling there was an explosion.”

“I was a bit nervous at the time of course because I didn’t know what was going on. I was a bit scared.”

At around 3pm, police were scrubbing the ground near the blast site and pedestrians were barred from the area.

State-run Global Times quoted an eyewitness as saying police officers took away a woman spraying petrol on herself in suspected attempt at self-immolation outside the embassy. The report could not be confirmed.

Chinese censors were also scrubbing social media of photos and videos of the incident, with the microblogging platform Weibo – China’s equivalent of Twitter – removing postings with the hashtag “US embassy explosion”.

The incident was not the first instance of an alleged attack outside an American consulate in China. In February 2015, a car rammed into barriers outside the US consulate in Shanghai, but the driver’s motivation was not known.

Additional reporting by Keegan Elmer, Jun Mai, Wendy Wu, Laura Zhou and Xinyan Yu and Tom Wang.

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