US consulate in China's Chengdu officially closes -- read details
Before Monday's deadline, staff were seen leaving the building, a plaque was removed, and a US flag was lowered. China's Foreign Ministry said Chinese staff entered the building after the deadline and "took over".
Amid rapid deterioration in relations between the US and China in the past two weeks, Beijing announced that the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu was closed on Monday, after it ordered the facility be shut in retaliation for China being ousted from its consulate in Houston, Texas.
The American flag at the Chengdu mission was lowered at 6.18 a.m., China's state broadcaster CCTV said on its social media account, and onlookers were moved back as a heavy police presence surrounded the consulate. Before Monday's deadline, staff were seen leaving the building and a plaque was removed.
The Chengdu consulate -- established in 1985 -- represented US interests over a vast area of south-western China, including the autonomous region of Tibet, where there has been long-running pressure for independence. The majority of the diplomatic mission's more than 200 employees were hired locally.
Beijing's tit for tat move comes as last week, the US government abruptly ordered the closure of Chinese consulate in Houston, claiming the mission had been involved in a larger Chinese espionage effort using diplomatic facilities around the US.
The reciprocal consulate closures marked a significant escalation in the multiple disputes between the world's two superpowers over a range of issues, including trade, technology, security and human rights.
CHINA TAKES OVER U.S. CONSULATE PREMISES IN CHENGDU
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a statement that the Chengdu consulate closed at 10 a.m. "Relevant Chinese authorities then entered from the main entrance and took over," it said in the statement posted on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
The US confirmed the closure of the consulate in a farewell video shared from the US embassy in China's Twitter account. "The US consulate in Chengdu has been proudly promoting the mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Tibet since 1985. We will forever miss you," it said.
A statement from the State Department said that the Chengdu consulate suspended operations at 10 am. “The consulate has stood at the center of our relations with the people in Western China, including Tibet, for 35 years," the statement said. “We are disappointed by the Chinese Communist Party’s decision and will strive to continue our outreach to the people in this important region through our other posts in China.”
The US has four other consulates in China and an embassy in Beijing.
Over the weekend, hundreds of people had gathered outside the US consulate in Chengdu -- the southwestern city of 16.5 million people -- taking selfies and waving Chinese flags. On Saturday, the US insignia was taken down, while on Sunday removal work began on a plaque outside the embassy and shipping containers were loaded onto trucks, as staff prepared for the consulate to be closed, CNN reported.
China had given the Americans the same time frame of 72 hours to close their Chengdu mission as Beijing had been given in Houston, where last Tuesday, Washington told China to "cease all operations and events".
Tensions have been escalating between the two countries over a number of issues:
-- US President Donald Trump's administration has clashed repeatedly with Beijing over trade and the coronavirus pandemic.
-- Washington has also condemned the imposition by China of a controversial new security law in Hong Kong
Last week, a Singaporean man pleaded guilty in a US court to working as an agent of China.
-- Also last week, four Chinese nationals were charged in a separate case with US visa fraud for allegedly lying about serving in China's military.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted what he said were decades of failed policy towards China. "As President Trump has made very clear, we need a strategy that protects the American economy and indeed our way of life. The free world must triumph over this new tyranny," Pompeo said.
"The truth is that our policies -- and those of other free nations -- resurrected China's failing economy, only to see Beijing bite the international hands that were feeding it. We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the Chinese Communist Party exploit our free and open society," he added.