China orders US to close Chengdu consulate

China orders US to close Chengdu consulate in retaliation for Houston closure

China ordered the US to close its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on July 24.
July 24, 2020 | 19:12
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The US Consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province (Photo: The New York Times)

China ordered the US to close its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on July 24, days after Washington forced the Chinese consulate in Houston to cease operations.

The tit-for-tat consulate closures were yet another twist in deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, perhaps the gravest one yet, The New York Times said.

The US move seriously breached international law, the basic norms of international relations, and the terms of the China-US Consular Convention. It gravely harmed China-US relations,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China informed the US Embassy in China of its decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the US Consulate General in Chengdu,” it said.

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China’s consulate in Houston. (Photo: AP)

China’s announcement came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech outlining the Trump administration’s increasingly aggressive stance toward China on virtually every aspect of the relationship — from trade to technology, according to The New York Times.

On Twitter, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said the order was "a legitimate and necessary response to the unilateral provocative move by the US to demand the closure of China's Consulate General in Houston."

Shortly after the announcement, Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said on Twitter that China had ordered the US side to vacate the consulate in 72 hours and notified them at 10 am on July 24. The consulate will be shut at 10 am local time on July 27.

The US Department of State and the US embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to requests for comment, according to Reuters.

Why does US consulate in Chengdu become the target?

Observers had previously suggested Beijing could order the closure of the US consulate in Wuhan, which is informally paired with Houston and the most recent to open in China. But diplomats have not been working from the consulate for several months now, having evacuated early in the coronavirus pandemic. Attempts to return to work were stymied by China's insistence that diplomats undergo coronavirus testing on arrival, potentially exposing their DNA to the Chinese security services, rather than provide a negative test result, CNN reported.

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Chengdu skyline aerial view at night, Sichuan province, China. GETTY

Editor-in-Chief of China’s Global Times Hu Xijin also said “I believe if China decides to close a US consulate in China as a tit-for-tat retaliation, it won't choose the Wuhan.”

Such a choice will be too much to the US advantage, he said, further explaining that the US abrupt decision to order China to close its consulate in Houston within 72 hours is extremely rude. It has made China's evacuation very troublesome. By contrast, the US side has been ready to leave Wuhan. It will feel less painful than what the Chinese diplomats have felt.

Therefore, if the Chinese side wants to retaliate, it's very likely it will jump out of the battlefield preset by the US. It will choose a consulate that will surprise the US and hurt it more. In other words, the option should cause as much trouble to the US as the US decision has caused to China,” Hu believed.

Meanwhile, readers of Global Times also said Beijing should close the US consulate for Hong Kong and Macau if it wants to retaliate for the closure of its mission in Houston.

More than 65 percent of people who took part in the online poll voted for the US consulate in Hong Kong, while the US missions in Guangzhou and Chengdu got just 10 and 7 percent of the vote respectively.

The newspaper staged the vote after China’s foreign ministry condemned the US for ordering the closure of the consulate general in the Texan city and urged it to immediately correct its mistake.

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The US consulate in Chengdu, southwestern China. (Photo: AFP)

The US consulate in Chengdu opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was not immediately clear how many are there now after a significant number of US diplomats were evacuated from China during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

Chengdu, the capital of China's southwest Sichuan province, is an important diplomatic outpost for the US, covering a large swath of the country, including the Tibetan Autonomous Region, CNN said.

The consulate was also the site of the dramatic attempted defection in 2012 by Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, whose actions kicked off a series of events that led to the downfall of top Communist Party official Bo Xilai, it added. /.

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Analysts expect the Chinese government to respond by ordering one of them closed.

Rosy Huong
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