US consulate in Chengdu shuts after China orders closure

CHENGDU:  Beijing announced the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu was closed on Monday (Jul 27) morning, after it ordered the facility be shut in retaliation for China being ousted from its consulate in Houston, Texas.

Police in Chengdu restricted access to the area around the consulate on Monday morning, and four officials in personal protective gear could be seen walking towards the consulate at about 10.24am local time.

China ordered the closure of the facility on Friday after Washington last week gave China 72 hours to vacate its consulate in Houston, in a dramatic escalation of tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Chinese authorities took possession of the closed United States consulate in Chengdu on Monday, the foreign ministry said.

“At 10am on Jul 27, according to the Chinese side’s request, the US consulate in Chengdu was closed. Afterwards, Chinese authorities entered through the front entrance and took it over,” the ministry’s public diplomacy office said in a statement on its official social media account.

The American flag was earlier lowered at the Chengdu consulate. Footage on state broadcaster CCTV from outside the consulate showed the flag being slowly lowered early Monday morning.

READ: China says closure of Houston consulate has harmed relations, warns it must retaliate

U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu
Police march into position to cordon off the neighborhood around the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, Jul 27, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Relations deteriorated in recent weeks in a Cold War-style standoff, with the Chengdu mission on Friday ordered to shut in retaliation for the forced closure of Beijing’s consulate in Houston, Texas.

The road leading to the Chengdu consulate was closed on Monday, with police and cordons blocking the way.

State media reported that staff members had left the compound at around 6am on Monday morning.

On Saturday, AFP reporters saw workers removing the US insignia from the front of the building. Over the weekend, removals trucks entered the site and cleaners were seen carting large black rubbish bags from the consulate.

A constant stream of onlookers in the city of 16.5 million people flowed past, many taking photos.

People stand on a road leading to the US Consulate in Chengdu (2)
People stand on a road leading to the US Consulate in Chengdu, southwestern China’s Sichuan province on Jul 27, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Noel Celis)

Beijing says closing the Chengdu consulate was a “legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable measures by the United States”, and has alleged that staff at the diplomatic mission endangered China’s security and interests.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that some US staff in the Chengdu consulate “were engaged in activities outside of their capacity, interfered in China’s internal affairs, and endangered China’s security and interests”.

Washington officials, meanwhile, said there had been unacceptable efforts by the Chinese consulate in Houston to steal US corporate secrets and proprietary medical and scientific research.

TENSIONS

Tensions have soared between the world’s two biggest economic powers on a range of fronts including trade, China’s handling of the coronavirus and a tough new security law for Hong Kong, with US officials warning of a “new tyranny” from China.

The last Chinese diplomats left the Houston consulate last Friday, with officials there seen loading large sacks of documents and other items onto trucks, and throwing some in bins.

U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu
Police set up an umbrella as they cordon off the area around the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, Jul 27, 2020.  (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

READ: Anti-communist protesters heckle staff emptying China’s consulate in Houston

Beijing said Saturday that US agents “forcibly” entered the Houston consulate, which it said was “China’s national property”.

The statement warned that “China will make a proper and necessary response in this regard”.