U.S. diplomatic staff vacated an American consulate in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu on Monday after it was ordered closed by Beijing amid rising tensions between the global powers.
China’s government ordered the mission to be shut in retaliation for a U.S. order to shut down China’s consulate in Houston amid spying allegations.
In Chengdu, footage broadcast by China’s state broadcaster CCTV showed U.S. consular staff leaving the facility, a plaque being removed and the U.S. flag lowered. China’s foreign ministry said its staff entered the building and were in control.
Outside, crowds assembled waving Chinese flags and taking photos and selfies on smartphones as shoppers and families with strollers jammed nearby streets on a sunny day in the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
The tit-for-tat closings marked a significant escalation in the multiple disputes between the countries over issues ranging from trade and technology to national security, human rights, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The Trump administration blames China for the coronavirus pandemic.
A State Department statement expressed disappointment, saying the consulate “has stood at the center of our relations with the people in Western China, including Tibet, for 35 years.” Th statement added that the U.S. government “will strive to continue our outreach to the people in this important region through our other posts in China.”
A day earlier, China’s foreign ministry issued a statement of protest over what it called intrusions into the Houston consulate, which closed on Friday, that violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-US Consular Convention.
“The Chinese side deplores and firmly opposes the U.S. move of forcibly entering China’s Consulate General in Houston and has lodged solemn representations. China will make legitimate and necessary reactions,” the statement said.
China maintains consulates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York in addition to its embassy in Washington. The U.S. has four other consulates in China and an embassy in Beijing, keeping the sides in parity in terms of diplomatic missions.
The Chengdu consulate briefly came to prominence when the police chief of the nearby city of Chongqing fled there in 2012, precipitating the downfall of Chongqing’s politically ambitious leader Bo Xilai in China’s biggest political scandal in decades. It also played host to former Vice President Joe Biden during a visit when the current prospective Democratic Party presidential candidate was accompanied by China’s now-leader Xi Jinping.