Chinese authorities have taken over the US consulate in Chengdu following its closure, the latest historic milestone marking the deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing.
The US lowered its flag over the US consulate in the southwest Chinese city earlier yesterday, less than three days after Washington forced their Chinese counterparts out of their mission in Houston, Texas.
The security cordon around the consulate, which has ebbed and flowed since China announced its decision on Friday to expel the diplomats, tightened yesterday morning, with police preventing pedestrians from getting within a block of the facility.
Chinese authorities entered the main gate of the consulate, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in statement yesterday. The consulate was closed at 10am, according to Beijing’s request.
Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) told a daily briefing in Beijing later yesterday that authorities’ entrance into the compound was a “legitimate and necessary response to what the US did.”
The closure of the US mission after 35 years drew a steady stream of onlookers throughout the weekend, as people filmed moving vans and consulate personnel pass in and out of the compound gates. The two consulates are the most tangible casualties yet of one of the worst disputes between the US and China since two sides formally established relations in 1979.
In a farewell slideshow posted on Chinese social media, the US consulate in Chengdu said locally posted diplomats would cherish the memory of working to promote mutual understanding between the American people and those of Chongqing, Guizhou, Sichuan, Tibet and Yunnan.
State broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) reported over the weekend that some Chinese staff were still negotiating their severance packages with the consulate after being laid off.
Some US employees “will not leave so quickly just yet because there is still much work to be done,” CGTN said, citing people it did not identify.
Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (胡錫進) said on Weibo that some Chinese staff at the consulate were insufficiently compensated after being laid off, without specifying where he got the information.
The decision by US President Donald Trump’s administration to shutter the Houston mission followed years of frustration about what it said was criminal and covert activity directed by Beijing to steal trade secrets and carry out malign influence operations across the US.
While two Chinese citizens were convicted in the past year for trying to steal trade secrets in the US’ energy capital, US administration officials told reporters on Friday that activity conducted through the Houston consulate represented the “tip of the iceberg.”
On Saturday, the Chinese ministry said it lodged “solemn representations” with the US over the forced entry into the Houston consulate.
Beijing will make a legitimate and necessary response, Wang said in a statement posted on its the ministry Web site.
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