in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan province on July 23, 2020. STR / AFP
Retaliating for a recent U.S. move to shutter a Chinese consulate in Texas, China announced it had ordered the immediate closure of the American consulate in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern Sichuan province.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the move in an official statement on Friday.
“China has decided to revoke the license for the establishment and operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu and put forward specific requirements to stop all businesses and activities,” it said, acknowledging current tensions with Washington.
The U.S. ordered China to close its consulate in Houston on Wednesday, a move that angered Beijing.
China’s Foreign Ministry also defended its actions, maintaining that “responsibility rests entirely” with the U.S.
“The above-mentioned measures taken by China are a legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable actions of the United States. They conform to international law and basic norms of international retaliation and conform to diplomatic practices,” it said.
Though the Chengdu consulate did comparatively little traffic, it was strategically important as a listening post for both Tibet and Xinjiang.
The spat, meanwhile, has drawn great attention in China, where the diplomatic tit-for-tat had become something of a spectator sport. Netizens even flocked to view live-streams of the U.S. consulate on the Sina Weibo microblogging site.
And prior to China’s announcement, the nationalist tabloid the Global Times hosted an online poll asking citizens which U.S. consulate they thought should be closed in retaliation.
Sixty-five percent of respondents said it was the Hong Kong-Macau consulate that should get the axe, the South China Morning Post reported. Another poll by the Chinese news portal Guancha saw 66 percent choose Hong Kong.
Chengdu, meanwhile, received just 7 percent of votes in both polls.
U.S. officials accused the Chinese consulate in Houston of being part of espionage operations, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo describing it as “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft.”
In an interview with Politico, however, Chinese Consul General Cai Wei remained defiant, saying his office would remain open “until further notice”.
Diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington, always fraught, have deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks, with tensions rising over several key issues. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over abuses against Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang and revoked Hong Kong’s preferential trade status over a Beijing-imposed national security law there.
China, meanwhile, has imposed sanctions of its own on U.S. politicians and lawmakers in retaliation for the Xinjiang sanctions.