US consulate staff clear premises in Chengdu

CHENGDU • Staff of the US consulate in Chengdu made final efforts to clear the premises yesterday, as security remained tight outside, ahead of today's closure ordered by Beijing amid worsening China-US relations.

Outside the facility on a tree-lined street on a hot day, onlookers shared sidewalk space with dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police opposite the entrance.

Consulate closures in Houston and Chengdu have escalated a sharp deterioration in ties between the world's two biggest economies, which were already at their worst in decades amid disputes over trade and technology, the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.

Police asked people to move on when crowds formed outside the consulate, as onlookers took photos and videos of what they expected would be the last time to see the compound in US hands. The street was closed to traffic, except for consular or police vehicles.

China last Friday ordered the closure of the Chengdu consulate in the south-western province of Sichuan. That means an evacuation deadline of 10am today, according to the editor of a state-run tabloid.

In Houston on Friday, a group of men accompanied by a US State Department official were seen forcing open a door at the Chinese consulate, shortly after the US closure order took effect for a facility that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called "a hub of spying and intellectual property theft".

A coach that was on the Chengdu consulate premises on Saturday left yesterday morning. It was unclear who or what was inside.

Since Friday, staff have been seen coming and going, including at least one with a suitcase. Removal vans entered and left on Saturday and yesterday.

"China's response was reciprocal," said a 63-year-old local resident who gave only his surname, Yang. The situation "is quite regrettable."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2020, with the headline US consulate staff clear premises in Chengdu. Subscribe