China orders US to shut Chengdu consulate, retaliating for Houston
BEIJING/HOUSTON (Reuters) – China ordered the United States on Friday to close its consulate in the city of Chengdu, responding to a US demand for China to close its Houston consulate, as relations between the world’s two largest economies deteriorate.
The order to close the Chengdu consulate in southwestern China’s Sichuan province continued Beijing’s recent practice of like-for-like responses to Washington’s actions.
Beijing had threatened retaliation after the Trump administration this week gave it 72 hours - until Friday - to vacate its consulate in the Texas city, and had urged the United States to reconsider.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the consulate had been “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft.”
Senior US officials said on Friday espionage activity by China’s diplomatic missions was occurring all over the United States, but its Houston consulate was one of the worst offenders and its activity went well over the line of what was acceptable.
A senior State Department official also linked espionage activity at China’s Houston consulate to China’s pursuit of research into a vaccine for the new coronavirus.
At the Houston consulate on Friday, about 100 Chinese activists gathered, shouting slogans denouncing China’s ruling Communist Party. Some held American flags.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated sharply this year over issues ranging from trade and technology to the coronavirus pandemic, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China informed the US Embassy in China of its decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the US Consulate General in Chengdu,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said some Chengdu consulate personnel were “conducting activities not in line with their identities” and had interfered in China’s affairs and harmed China’s security interests, but he did not say how.
Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, who is also foreign minister, blamed Washington for the deterioration in ties.
“The current difficult situation in Sino-US relations is entirely caused by the United States, and its goal is trying to interrupt China’s development,” Wang said in a video conversation with his German counterpart.
CHINESE RESEARCHER IN US CUSTODY
US President Donald Trump’s administration said the closing of the consulate was aimed at protecting American intellectual property and personal information.
“We urge the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) to cease these malign actions rather than engage in tit-for-tat retaliation,” John Ullyot, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.
In a related case, a senior US Justice Department official said a Chinese researcher who took refuge from US authorities at China’s consulate in San Francisco is now in American custody and is expected to appear in court on Friday.
He said the researcher, Juan Tang, was part of a network of associates who concealed their military affiliation when applying for visas.
The US consulate in Chengdu was given 72 hours to close, or until 10 a.m. on Monday, the editor of the Global Times newspaper said on Twitter.
The consulate opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees, including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was not immediately clear how many are there now after U.S. diplomats were evacuated from China because of the pandemic.
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