US diplomats to leave consulate in Chengdu in tit-for-tat closures

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American diplomats are to leave the US consulate in the south-western Chinese city of Chengdu, following Beijing’s decision to close the mission.

With just hours to go before a Monday morning deadline, staff could be seen carrying box files and bags of rubbish.

Meanwhile, crowds of local residents have gathered outside, with many waving Chinese flags and taking selfies.

China acted in response to the US closing its consulate in Houston, Texas, last week.

After a 72-hour deadline for Chinese diplomats to leave the Houston mission expired on Friday, reporters saw men who appeared to be US officials force open a door to enter the premises.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had decided to act because Beijing was “stealing” intellectual property.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded by saying that the US move was based on “a hodgepodge of anti-Chinese lies”.

Tensions have been escalating between the two nuclear powers over a number of issues:

  • US President Donald Trump’s administration has clashed repeatedly with Beijing over trade and the coronavirus pandemic
  • Washington has also condemned the imposition by China of a controversial new security law in Hong Kong
  • Last week, a Singaporean man pleaded guilty in a US court to working as an agent of China
  • Also last week, four Chinese nations were charged in a separate case with US visa fraud for allegedly lying about serving in China’s military

What’s the latest from Chengdu?

Chinese state media have been showing pictures of lorries leaving the US consulate, and workers removing diplomatic insignia from the building.

People take pictures outside the US consulate in Chengdu, China. Photo: 26 July 2020
Image captionCrowds of curious locals gathered outside the US diplomatic mission on Sunday

Dozens of Chinese police have been deployed outside, urging onlookers to move on and trying to prevent any provocations.

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

When Chinese diplomats left their mission in Houston for the last time they were jeered by protesters.

The Chengdu consulate – established in 1985 – represented US interests over a vast area of south-western China, including the autonomous region of Tibet, where there has been long-running pressure for independence.

The majority of the diplomatic mission’s more than 200 employees had been hired locally.

With its industry and growing services sector, Chengdu is seen by the US as providing opportunities for exports of agricultural products, cars and machinery.

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