US diplomatic staff leave consulate in Chinese city in dispute

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US diplomatic staff leave consulate in Chinese city in dispute

US diplomatic personnel left their consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu after the expiration of 72 hours.

China ordered the shutdown in response to the closure by the United States from the Chinese Consulate in Houston, Texas, last week.

Before Monday's deadline, staff were seen leaving the building, a plaque was removed and an American flag was lowered.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chinese personnel entered the building after the deadline and "took over."

A spokesperson for the US State Department said, “The consulate has been at the center of our relations with the people of western China, including Tibet, for 35 years.

“We are disappointed with the decision of the Chinese Communist Party and will endeavor to continue raising awareness among people in this important region through our other posts in China. "

As the US Consulate closed, local residents gathered outside, with many Chinese flags and taking selfies.

  • The Chinese spy who hunted on LinkedIn

Last Wednesday, the United States ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, alleging it had become a hub for espionage and theft of property.

Tensions have intensified between the two countries over a number of issues:

  • US President Donald Trump's administration has repeatedly clashed in Beijing over trade and the coronavirus pandemic
  • Washington also condemned China's imposition of controversial new security law in Hong Kong
  • Last week, Singaporean pleads guilty in US court for working as an agent for China
  • Also last week, four Chinese nationals indicted in separate US visa fraud case for allegedly lying about their service in the Chinese military.
A man tries to remove the diplomatic plaque from a wall of the US Consulate in Chengdu, China. Photo: July 26, 2020Image copyrightEPA-registered household disinfectants
LegendWorkers began removing the diplomatic plaque from the US consulate on Sunday

What happened in Chengdu?

Chinese state media showed photos of trucks leaving the consulate and workers removing diplomatic badges from the building.

On Monday morning, state broadcaster CCTV posted a video of the removal of the American flag.

Dozens of Chinese policemen were deployed outside the building, urging onlookers to move on.

However, boos were heard when a bus with tinted windows left the building on Sunday, AFP news agency reports.

When Chinese diplomats left their mission in Houston last week, they were mocked by protesters.

Why did China choose to close the US consulate in Chengdu?

Last week, the Foreign Office said the shutdown was a "legitimate and necessary response" to the measures taken by the United States.

Consulate staff were "engaged in activities beyond their capacity, interfering in China's internal affairs and endangering China's security and interests," the statement said.

The Chengdu Consulate, established in 1985, represented American interests in a large area of ​​southwestern China.

The consulate was considered strategically important because it enabled the United States to gather information about Tibet, where there has been long-standing pressure for independence. Rights groups have long accused China of religious repression and human rights abuses in Tibet, which Beijing denies.

With its growing industry and service sector, Chengdu is also seen by the United States as offering export opportunities for agricultural products, cars and machinery.

Police in ChengduImage copyrightAFP
LegendThe police guarded the spectators' premises

The majority of the more than 200 diplomatic mission staff were hired locally.

The shutdown leaves the United States with four consulates in mainland China and an embassy in the capital Beijing. It also has a consulate in Hong Kong.

What happened in Houston last week?

China lost its mission in Houston last week, but still has four other consulates in the United States and an embassy in Washington DC.

After the 72-hour deadline for Chinese diplomats to leave the Houston consulate on Friday expired, reporters saw men who appeared to be U.S. officials force a door into the premises.

Legend of the mediaMen using hose and closing garbage cans at Chinese Consulate in Houston

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington acted because Beijing was "stealing" intellectual property.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin replied that the US decision was based on "a mishmash of anti-Chinese lies."

Why are there tensions between China and the United States?

There are a number of things at stake. US officials have blamed China for the global spread of Covid-19. Specifically, President Trump has alleged, without evidence, that the virus originated from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan.

And, in unsubstantiated remarks, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in March that the US military could have brought the virus to Wuhan.

The United States and China have also been locked in a tariff war since 2018.

Mr Trump has long accused China of unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft, but in Beijing it feels like the United States is trying to curb its rise as a global economic power.

The United States has also imposed sanctions on Chinese politicians who they claim are responsible for human rights violations against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. China is accused of massive detentions, religious persecution, and forced sterilization of Uyghurs and others.

Beijing denies the allegations and has accused the United States of "flagrant interference" in its internal affairs.

Correction: This article originally included a map that was inaccurate and has been replaced.

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