Fire pushes State’s China team out of digs before Obama trip


The State Department’s fire could have been worse. The photo is of a fireman putting out a blaze during the Fire Fighting Olympics last week in Manila to promote fire prevention month there. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

Seems the State Department China desk team — about two dozen-plus China policy experts and other officials — has been sitting in offices two long blocks away in State Annex 1, which is in Columbia Plaza, in recent months while their office space in the main building is being remodeled.

The team has grown in recent years from 14 foreign service officers to more than 25 in order to handle increasingly important relations with America’s Favorite Banker. (New space is the same size as the old, so the new offices are teensy.)

Then, very early Tuesday morning, before anyone got to work, we’re told a printer on one of the desks in the temporary space somehow ignited and started a fire. The fire department came and quickly doused the flames, though several floors had smoke and water damage and a number of other bureaus were closed down.

So the team had to scatter around the East Asia Pacific bureau back in the main building, mooching desk space until the renovations were done. Other bureaus are making do, telecommuting and so forth.

The good news is no one was hurt. And, more good news, a hurry-up went out to get the new digs finished, which they were by Monday morning.

But a fire starting when no one was there? When most everything was shut down and unplugged? And virtually on the eve of President Obama’s trip to Asia to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders?

We’ve warned people about those cheap-o Chinese listening devices, how they are prone to overheating. The Chinese repeatedly promised to fix that flaw. Apparently they haven’t.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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