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'Legitimate Reaction to Unreasonable Action': In Tit-for-tat Move, China Orders Closure of US Consulate in Chengdu

(Representative image)

(Representative image)

A statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the US Embassy here has been informed of the Chinese government's decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the US Consulate General in Chengdu, the provincial capital of southwestern Sichuan province.

China on Friday ordered the US to close down its consulate in Chengdu in retaliation to Washington's decision to shut the Chinese mission in Houston, further straining the already tense bilateral ties.

A statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the US Embassy here has been informed of the Chinese government's decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the US Consulate General in Chengdu, the provincial capital of southwestern Sichuan province.

The consulate, established in 1985 and currently having more than 200 staff, some 150 hired locally, is seen as strategically important because it allows the US to gather information on the sensitive region of Tibet, where the followers of the Dalai Lama have been demanding meaningful autonomy.

At a regular press conference on Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused staff in the Chengdu consulate "of interfering in China's internal affairs and harming China's national security interests."

Wang said that closing the US mission in Chengdu was a "legitimate and necessary response" to Washington demanding that the Chinese consulate in Houston be shut. US officials have made similar accusations about Chinese diplomats acting beyond their duties and engaging in espionage related activity.

Earlier, the ministry, in a statement noted that on July 21, the US launched a "unilateral provocation" by abruptly demanding that China close its Consulate General in Houston.

The US move seriously breached international law, the basic norms of international relations, and the terms of the China-US Consular Convention, the foreign ministry statement said.

"It gravely harmed China-US relations. The measure taken by China is a legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the US. It conforms with international law, the basic norms of international relations, and customary diplomatic practices," it said.

"The current situation in China-US relations is not what China desires to see, and the US is responsible for all this. We once again urge the US to immediately retract its wrong decision and create necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track," it said.

Chengdu is one of six US foreign missions, including the embassy in Beijing, in mainland China. The US also has a consulate in Hong Kong.

The US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, a move it said was aimed "to protect American intellectual property and private information."

Top American officials have accused the Chinese consulate in Houston of being part of Beijing's espionage operation in the US.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he may order the closure of more Chinese consulates in the country. The Chinese consulate in Houston was one of five in the US, along with the embassy in Washington DC. It has consulates in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Relations between the US and China have taken a turn for the worse in recent months over Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Fresh concerns over China's crackdown of its Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang and Beijing imposing a controversial national security law in Hong Kong have also raised bilateral tensions.

In a major speech on the Trump administration's China policy on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Chinese consulate in Houston "a hub of spying and intellectual property theft".

first published:July 24, 2020, 09:43 IST