US Consulate staff in Chengdu evacuate office after Beijing orders closure

US Consulate staff in Chengdu evacuate office after Beijing orders closure
Source: Bloomberg

On Sunday, staffers of the United States consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu scrambled to vacate the premises as they neared the 10 a.m. Monday closure deadline ordered by Beijing.

While the streets outside the Chengdu consulate office were cordoned off by police, that didn’t stop crowds of onlookers from gathering to take videos and photos of the evacuation and cheer on police as they ushered out the remaining US employees.

The staff at the Chengdu consulate office was charged with overlooking activities in regions in Western China such as Xinjiang and Tibet. These regions are inhabited by several non-ethnic Chinese minorities that have been the focus of human rights abuse allegations. The consulate also gave the US access to a lucrative and fast-moving commercial expansion taking place across Central Asia.

According to a tweet by Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, a state owned media outlet, Beijing had ordered the closure on Friday morning and had given workers 72 hours to clear the area, matching the evacuation order given to the Chinese consulate workers in Texas.

This was done in retaliation to an order given by the Trump administration last Wednesday to shut down the China consulate in Houston, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a “hub of spying and intellectual property theft” amid allegations that the consulate had aided cyberattacks targeting coronavirus vaccine research facilities and other international businesses.

China has denied all claims of wrongdoing and has labeled such claims “malicious slander.”

China also issued formal complaints on Saturday after a group of men, which included a US State Department official, forcibly entered the closed Chinese consulate in Houston after the government closure took effect.

The tit-for-tat closures are just the latest indicators of the worsening relations between the US and China as disputes have risen over a plethora of issues such as trade, security, the coronavirus pandemic, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its tightening grip in Hong Kong.

As bilateral ties between the world’s two biggest economies continue to deteriorate, some question whether either party will yield any time soon.

An editorial published by the Global Times acknowledged that Beijing now faces a dilemma between preserving its international relations and upholding their national interests.

“[China] would appear weak if it doesn’t fight back, which will lead to a series of consequences, seriously hurting China’s long-term national interests,” the editorial wrote. “However, after reciprocal measures are taken to fight back, China and the US are pushed further away; decoupling is accelerating and strategic risk is rising in [the] Asia Pacific region.”

The editorial goes on to say that although China has no intention of unnecessarily escalating tensions, it will not hesitate to respond when challenged.

“China’s attitude is simple. We will hit back after any malicious provocations.”

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