China Shutters American Consulate In Chengdu As “New Cold War” Heats Up

Update (0800ET): China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, one of the most visible senior officials in the President Xi-led Communist Party, said Friday that the current “difficult situation” in US-Sino relations was “entirely the fault of the US.”

Meanwhile, CCP mouthpiece the Global Times warned in an article published roughly an hour ago that the closure of the US consulate in Chengdu will cause more strategic losses on the US side as “Washington has long used its diplomats in Chengdu to infiltrate Tibet and other regions in Southwest China, interfering in China’s domestic affairs.”

In a statement that alludes to the western powers’ criticisms of China’s blatant and widespread abuses of human rights in Xinjiang, the GT cited a top Foreign Ministry spokesman, who said during a briefing on Friday that the US’s consulate in Chengdu was a thinly veiled espionage operation…

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a routine press conference on Friday that some diplomats at the US consulate in Chengdu have undertaken activities that are “inconsistent with their identity” to interfere in China’s domestic affairs and damage China’s national security, and China has made many representations to the US on that front.

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations under the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday that the US consulate in Chengdu covered affairs in China’s Tibet and many ethnic regions in Southwest China, meaning it played a significant strategic role for the US in China.

The US Consulate General in Chengdu was established in 1985 and covers regions including the Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, the Chongqing Municipality and the Tibet Autonomous Region, according to the consulate’s website.

An expert on China-US relations and intelligence who asked for anonymity told the Global Times that the US has used its consulate in Chengdu to infiltrate Tibet region and interfere in China’s ethnic and religious affairs for a very long time.

…unlike China’s consulate in Houston, which existed simply to serve the needs of Chinese nationals living the expat life in the Southwestern US (along with Puerto Rico),

Li said, “In recent years, the consulate in Chengdu has been collecting intelligence in Tibet and other areas of Southwest China, and has produced misinformation to demonize China’s governance in Tibet. If the US, just as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, intends to increase its input in China and support a color revolution, the consulate in Chengdu could create a lot of problems for China.”

Unlike the US consulate in Chengdu, China’s consulate in Houston is mainly responsible for providing consular services to Chinese nationals in southeastern American states and other diplomatic affairs, said experts.

On Weibo, a popular social media platform in China, users reportedly “felt sorry” for the American diplomats who were being kicked out of Sichuan because the diplomats would no longer be able to enjoy the authentic Sichuan-style cooking in the region, or gaze at the giant pandas.

Chinese web users also mocked the US diplomats “will lose more” as they can’t stay in Chengdu anymore. Some of them said on Sina Weibo that they feel “very sad” for the Americans who won’t have access to delicious cuisine from Sichuan like hotpot nor the lovely giant pandas in Chengdu, as they would feel the consequences of their reckless politicians who decided to endlessly challenge the bottom line of the Chinese government.

The article was accompanied by this helpful infographic:

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As one prominent CCP mouthpiece warned yesterday afternoon, China has unveiled its retaliation against Washington for ordering the abrupt closure of a consulate in Houston. And markets aren’t taking it too well, with US futures moving even lower following a sharp selloff Thursday afternoon as the gravity of the situation finally rattled investor confidence.

China announced Friday morning that it would order the closure of the American consulate in Chengdu, a major Chinese city and the capital of Sichuan Province.

China ordered the US to close Chengdu consulate within 72 hours, the same as the time that the US gave to China for the closure of the Houston consulate, according to Global Times editor Hu Xijin.

As the New York Times explains, this latest tit-for-tat suggests that the bilateral relationship between the world’s two largest economies has reached another grim milestone as the deterioration accelerates.

The tit-for-tat consulate closures were yet another twist in deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, perhaps the gravest one yet. Previous moves by the two sides have included visa restrictions, new travel rules for diplomats and the expulsion of foreign correspondents. By shutting down diplomatic missions, however, the two countries seem to be moving inexorably toward a deeper divide.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing said the move was a “legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the United States.” It said the United States was responsible for the deterioration in relations and urged it to “immediately retract” its directive to close the consulate in Houston.

China’s announcement came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech outlining the Trump administration’s increasingly aggressive stance toward China on virtually every aspect of the relationship — from trade to technology.

“We must admit a hard truth that should guide us in the years and decades to come, that if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done,” Mr. Pompeo said on Thursday. “We must not continue it and we must not return to it.”

He spoke in California at the library of President Richard M. Nixon, whose visit to China in 1972 set in motion a new era of relations that, he said, China exploited to the disadvantage of the United States. His reference to the closing of the consulate in Houston was met with a round of applause.

Several academics quoted by Voice of America News warned that this latest diplomatic standoff is a sign of a new ‘Cold War’, and that there would likely be more mud-slinging and military posturing between now and the November election.

“It is an escalation (of diplomatic tensions). And it is a new cold war that’s been launched step by step by the U.S. and China,” said Sang Pu, a political commentator in Hong Kong.

“U.S.-China relations have been hitting all-time lows since the [coronavirus] pandemic started or, in particular, Hong Kong’s national security law took effect,” Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, told VOA.

“There are still four months ahead of the U.S. presidential election and six months before the next administration takes office in the White House. During that period of time, Trump will no doubt make many other moves to worsen the relationship between both countries,” the professor projected.

A speech delivered last night by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last night seemed to pour salt in the wound, as America’s top diplomat suggested that the Chinese people should essentially rebel against totalitarian Communist Party rule.

But Pompeo’s speech wasn’t the only reason for CCP officials to grouse. Media reports published yesterday claimed the US had identified at least 25 CCP members who are involved with sensitive research at universities around the US.

Sen Marco Rubio tweeted earlier this week that China’s Houston consulate was a “nest of spies”; the White House hasn’t offered much in the way of justification for the decision.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said during a press briefing earlier this week that President Trump “remains unhappy” with China over its handling of an outbreak that has killed more than 140,000 Americans.

Washington “abruptly demanded” the closure of the Houston consulate late Tuesday, according to media reports confirmed by China’s Foreign Ministry. The order apparently led officials at the diplomatic mission to start burning sensitive documents, drawing the attention of local police.

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