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International relations

US shutters Chengdu consulate as tensions with China escalate

Tit-for-tat closures come amid worsening tensions between two superpowers

The plaque at the U.S. consulate general in the Chinese city of Chengdu is removed on July 26.    © Reuters

BEIJING/SHANGHAI -- The U.S. has closed its consulate in China's southwestern city of Chengdu, after being ordered to shut it down by the Chinese government, the Asian nation's Foreign Ministry announced on Monday.

The Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, had closed earlier, on orders from the U.S. government.

The ministry said that Chinese authorities have already entered the premises of the Chengdu facility and completed the seizure, though did not elaborate. State media CCTV showed Chinese officials entering the consulate at 10:00 am local time to "take over" the property. They also covered the consulate's signage. The American flag was lowered earlier in the morning.

"The situation between China and the U.S. is something that we don't wish to see," said Wang Wenbin, the ministry's spokesperson. "Again, we urge the U.S. to correct its mistakes immediately and create the necessary conditions for the bilateral relationships to return to normal."

Chinese media live coverage showed the sign on the U.S. consulate in Chengdu being removed Sunday.

Media coverage has stirred nationalist sentiments in Chinese social media, with many applauding the government's actions. "It's a day for celebration," said an entry on the blogging app Weibo.

The Chinese government had set the deadline for closure for Monday. In the last few days, trucks and buses have been carrying away the contents of the consulate. A crowd of media and onlookers gathered in front of the building to watch the evacuation. Media provided live coverage, and people took pictures.

The closures have increased friction between the two superpowers. The U.S. government on July 21 ordered China to close its consulate in Houston. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the building was being used as a base for spying and stealing intellectual property. In retaliation, China ordered the U.S. to close its consulate in Chengdu.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Sunday criticized the U.S. action on its consulate in Houston, saying it "is no different from burglary."

The tit-for-tat closures have taken place amid worsening relationships over handling of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. government passing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act. The new law enables the U.S. to impose mandatory sanctions on individuals or companies that back efforts by China to restrict Hong Kong's autonomy. The move is meant to push back against Beijing's new security law for the city.

The government mouthpiece Global Times blamed Washington in a Sunday editorial for rising tensions and warned of "accidental sparks [that] may lead to unprecedented catastrophe" if the confrontations escalate.

Ordinary people expressed concern over the deterioration of bilateral relations. "We are worried more about war than the coronavirus pandemic," said Xia Hong, a property agent in Shanghai.

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