US closes consulate in Chengdu, China

The US says it has closed its consulate in Chengdu, China after China ordered the consulate closed in retaliation for a US order to shut down the Chinese Consulate in Houston last week.

A statement from the State Department said that the consulate suspended operations at 10am on Monday.

It expressed disappointment at China’s decision and said the US would try to continue its outreach to the region through its other missions in China.

The consulate in southwestern China “has stood at the centre of our relations with the people in Western China, including Tibet, for 35 years,” the statement said.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Chinese paramilitary policemen march near a neighborhood sealed off before the official closure of the US consulate in Chengdu (Ng Han Guan/AP)</figcaption>
Chinese paramilitary policemen march near a neighborhood sealed off before the official closure of the US consulate in Chengdu (Ng Han Guan/AP)

The tit-for-tat closings marked a significant escalation in the tensions between the two countries over a range of issues, including trade, technology, security and human rights.

Moving trucks arrived at the US consulate Sunday afternoon and left a few hours later.

Late at night, flatbed trailers entered the complex. One later emerged carrying a large shipping container and a crane.

Before the area was closed, the impending closure of the consulate drew a steady stream of onlookers over the weekend as Chengdu, like Houston, found itself in the limelight of international politics.

People stopped to take selfies and photos, jamming a sidewalk busy with shoppers and families with strollers on a sunny day in the city of Chengdu.

A little boy posed with a small Chinese flag before plainclothes police shooed him away as foreign media cameras zoomed in.

Police had shut the street and sidewalk in front of the consulate and set up metal barriers along the sidewalk on the other side of the tree-lined road.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>The consulate attracted plenty of public attention in the days before its closure (Ng Han Guan/AP)</figcaption>
The consulate attracted plenty of public attention in the days before its closure (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Uniformed and plainclothes officers kept watch on both sides of the barriers after scattered incidents following the Chengdu announcement on Friday, including a man who set off firecrackers and hecklers who cursed at foreign media shooting video and photos of the scene.

A man who tried to unfurl a large placard on Sunday that he called an open letter to the Chinese government was quickly taken away.

Earlier, a bus left the consulate grounds and what appeared to be embassy staff spoke with plainclothes police before retreating back behind the property’s solid black gates.

It was not clear who or what was on the bus.

Three medium-size trucks arrived and left a few hours later, and cars with diplomatic plates departed in between.

The US alleged that the Houston consulate was a nest of Chinese spies who tried to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

China said the allegations were “malicious slander.”

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