China orders closure of US consulate in Chengdu in tit-for-tat move

The US consulate in the Chengdu, China, as seen on July 23, 2020. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING - China ordered the closure of the United States’ consulate in Chengdu on Friday (July 24) in retaliation for the abrupt shutting of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.

“On the morning of July 24, 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China notified the US Embassy in China that China has decided to revoke the licence for the establishment and operation of the US Consulate General in Chengdu and put forward specific requirements for the Consulate General to stop all business and activities,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

The move is a “legitimate and necessary response” to “unreasonable” US actions, the statement said, blaming the Americans for the current state of affairs.

The editor in chief of the Global Times newspaper Hu Xijin said on Twitter that the Chinese side notified the US side at 10am (0200 GMT) on Friday. It means the Chengdu consulate will be closed by 10am on Monday.

Bilateral ties are at their worst state in years, with the world’s two largest economies at odds over a range of issues including trade, espionage and China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington had on Tuesday ordered the closure of China’s Houston consulate, citing a need to protect American intellectual property and intelligence, and calling the mission the “epicentre” of China’s military-backed industrial espionage efforts.

Shortly after the ordered closure, witnesses in Houston saw documents getting torched in open bins in the consulate compound.

Chinese diplomats were given 72-hours – until Friday afternoon US time – to vacate the premises.

Beijing’s retaliatory announcement comes just hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Chinese people and “free nations of the world” to change the behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party, in a major policy speech.

“The free world must triumph over this new tyranny,” he said. “If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will surely change us.

It is one of the Trump administration’s most sweeping indictments of the Chinese government, and caps a series of speeches in recent weeks from senior US officials highlighting the imbalanced relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

In a post-speech discussion, Mr Pompeo acknowledged that he was asking countries to pick a side, but said countries which stood up to China could rely on America to be there for them.

“I think about picking a side differently than picking America or picking China. The division... is between freedom and tyranny.

“That’s the decision we’re asking each of these nations to make,” he said.

Beijing said on Friday that Mr Pompeo's speech was filled with ideological bias. Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily news conference that China urged the US to discard its “cold war mentality”.

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