China took over the premises of the US consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan, on Monday to retaliate for the closure of its consulate in Houston, Texas, last week. Chinese administration ordered that the consulate be vacated within 72 hours, commensurate with the deadline it received from the US officials in China’s ouster from its consulate in Houston.
On Tuesday last week, the employees in the Chinese consulate in Houston were spotted burning documents in the consulate courtyard. Afterwards, Chinese officials announced that they had been ordered by Washington to vacate its consulate in 72 hours. Amid the escalating tensions between the largest economies in the world, China retaliated by seizing the US consulate in the southwestern Chengdu on Monday.
The American flag was lowered on 6:18 a.m. on Monday. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the consulate was officially closed on 10 a.m., and the Chinese authorities had entered the building afterwards. A grey sheet-like material was put over the place where “U.S. Consulate General” was written in large lettering, and where a plaque was affixed on the wall.
On Friday, Beijing announced that it had asked the United States to close its consulate in Chengdu, and vacate the premises within 72 hours, the same amount of time China’s was given to vacate its consulate in Houston.
On Sunday night, a crane was seen entering the consulate and hoisting a container in a truck.
At midday on Monday, the police removed a roadblock that restricted access to the US consulate. Soon, passers-by stopped in front of the consulate to take pictures and flourish the Chinese flag. A man allegedly played the Chinese anthem on his phone.
The US administration expressed disappointment on Beijing’s decision and said that it would continue its outreach toward the people of that region through its other posts in China. “We are disappointed by the Chinese Communist Party’s decision and will strive to continue our outreach to the people in this important region through our other posts in China”, a US Department spokesperson had told Reuters.
Following the closure of the consulate, the US embassy released a video on its Twitter feed in Chinese: “The U.S. consulate in Chengdu has been proudly promoting the mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Tibet since 1985. We will forever miss you”, it said.
According to their website, the Chengdu consulate was opened in 1985 and had roughly 200 employees, including 150 locally hired staff. Many of the US diplomats were evacuated in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, so it is not clear how many employees were working in the consulate at the time of its closure.
The bilateral consulate closure is another incendiary chapter in the already worsening Sino-American relations. These relations had plunged to their worst in previous decades over a multitude of conflicts like technology, trade, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Chinese clampdown and the enactment of the draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong and the Covid-19 pandemic (the US president cavalierly dubbed it the ‘Chinese virus’, stirring a host attacks on the Asian-Americans and fuel the anti-Asian racism in the US). On Thursday, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the assertive approach to China the “mission of our time” in a speech.