Thursday December 02, 2021

US-China ties on downslide: China orders US to shut down consulate in Chengdu

July 25, 2020

HOUSTON: US-China relations deteriorated further in a Cold War-style standoff Friday as Beijing ordered the US consulate in Chengdu, near Tibet, to shut in retaliation for the closure of its own Houston mission -- accused of being a hub for espionage.

Earlier, the Chinese officials were seen loading large sacks of objects and documents onto U-Haul trucks and tossing more into dumpster bins at the country´s large mission in the Texas city, given a Friday deadline to vacate the building. In the Chinese city of Chengdu, in southwestern Sichuan province, some two dozen police were stationed in front of the US consulate as onlookers took photos before being prodded to move along, with the deadline for the Americans to vacate unclear.

Washington officials said the level of unacceptable activity in the Houston mission had grown too large to ignore, as they announced new criminal cases targeting Beijing. The Justice Department announced that a Singaporean "political consultant" had pleaded guilty to recruiting American targets for Chinese intelligence. And it said that a science researcher at a California university who hid her ties to China´s People's Liberation Army and then fled to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco had been arrested and would face visa fraud charges.

China though called the Houston move unreasonable and blamed Washington for the sharp deterioration in relations. Closing the Chengdu consulate was a "legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable measures by the United States", the foreign ministry said in a statement. "The current situation in China-US relations is not what China desires to see, and the US is responsible for all this," it said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that some US staff in the Chengdu consulate, in China´s southwest near Tibet, "were engaged in activities outside of their capacity, interfered in China´s internal affairs, and endangered China´s security and interests." He called the recent US arrest of four PLA-tied academic researchers for visa fraud "naked political persecution."

The two nations have increasingly tussled over a plethora of issues, including China´s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its efforts to quash a democracy movement in Hong Kong. Victor Shih, associate professor of political science at University of California-San Diego, said that closing Chengdu instead of a higher profile US mission indicated Beijing was trying to avoid derailing ties completely. "This response potentially allows the two sides to take a breather in this escalation, and provides room for the Trump administration to assess whether further straining ties with the US´ largest trading partner in an economic downturn is advisable," Shih told AFP.