The United States consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu officially closed on Monday morning, amid worsening relations between Beijing and Washington.
The American flag over the building was lowered at dawn, according to Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV, and onlookers were moved back as a heavy police presence surrounded the consulate, which Beijing ordered to shut on Friday in a tit-for-tat move.
Last week, the US government abruptly ordered the closure of China’s consulate in Houston, Texas, claiming the mission had been involved in a larger Chinese espionage effort using diplomatic facilities around the US.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a statement Monday that the Chengdu consulate closed at 10 a.m. “Relevant Chinese authorities then entered from the main entrance and took over,” the ministry said in the statement posted on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Over the weekend, hundreds of people had gathered outside the US consulate in the southwestern city of 16.5 million people, taking selfies and waving Chinese flags. On Saturday, the US insignia was taken down, while on Sunday removal work began on a plaque outside the embassy and shipping containers were loaded onto trucks, as staff prepared for the consulate to be closed.
The Chinese government had given the Americans the same time frame of 72 hours to close their Chengdu mission as Beijing had been afforded in Houston, where last Tuesday, Washington told China to “cease all operations and events.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry called that move an “unprecedented escalation” of ongoing tensions between the two countries.
“The current situation between China and the United States is something China does not want to see, and the responsibility rests entirely with the United States,” the foreign ministry said in the statement.
As the deadline to close the Chinese diplomatic mission expired on Friday, US federal agents entered the compound of the Chinese consulate in Houston in black SUVs and white vans.
Relations between the US and China have rapidly deteriorated in the past two weeks, amid the reciprocal consulate closures and the guilty plea of a Singaporean national who admitted to spying for Beijing.
Speaking at the Nixon Library in California on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted what he said were decades of failed policy toward China.
“As President Trump has made very clear, we need a strategy that protects the American economy and indeed our way of life. The free world must triumph over this new tyranny,” Pompeo said.
“The truth is that our policies — and those of other free nations — resurrected China’s failing economy, only to see Beijing bite the international hands that were feeding it. We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the Chinese Communist Party exploit our free and open society.”