China Shutters U.S. Consulate in Chengdu to Retaliate for Houston Closure

The flag of the People's Republic of China flies in the wind above the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in San Francisco, California on July 23, 2020. - The US Justice Department announced July 23, 2020 the indictments of four Chinese researchers it said lied about their …
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The Chinese Communist government on Friday ordered the United States consulate in Chengdu to close in retaliation for the U.S. shuttering the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry justified the move by claiming the United States has been using the Chengdu consulate to meddle in China’s internal affairs, an obvious echo of the U.S. allegations that the Chinese consulate in Houston was a hub for espionage activity.

U.S. prosecutors also believe China is harboring a fugitive and possible espionage agent from American justice at its San Francisco consulate.

“Some of the personnel at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu engaged in activities inconsistent with their capacity. They interfered with China’s domestic affairs and harmed China’s national security interest. The Chinese side has lodged multiple representations. The U.S. know what they have done,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

“The current situation in China-U.S. relations is not what China desires to see, and the U.S. is responsible for all this. We once again urge the U.S. to immediately retract its wrong decision and create necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Retaliation from China for the Houston consulate shutdown was widely expected, and the smart money was on Chengdu, which is just significant enough for its loss to be meaningful, but not catastrophic. The Chengdu facility has also been something of an irritant to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because it gave U.S. diplomats access to the worst scenes of Chinese oppression and brutality, including Tibet and Xinjiang province.

“Observers said closing down the Chengdu outpost was a carefully calculated decision to ensure there was retaliation against the U.S., but to avoid the tensions getting out of control by not targeting U.S. missions in other key cities, such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Hong Kong,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

The SCMP noted the U.S. has four other consulates in China, plus consulates general in Hong Kong and Macao, and has long been attempting to establish a consulate in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

Chinese analysts told the SCMP Chengdu was chosen to demonstrate China’s “restraint” and suggested the decision might be reversed if the U.S. changes its mind about closing the Houston consulate. Chinese state media said the American staff at Chengdu was given 72 hours to evacuate, the same window afforded to the Chinese staff in Houston.

Chinese Communist Party media universally repeated the line that America had no good reason to close the Houston consulate, denied it was orchestrating any improper activity from the Houston facility, and accused the Trump administration of irresponsibly escalating the diplomatic conflict to goose his flagging poll numbers.

“The U.S. is unlikely to make further provocations to close more Chinese diplomatic missions. Choosing the consulate in Houston could help the Trump administration distract the public’s attention of the worsening epidemic situation in Texas, a traditional ‘red state,’ which the Republican party can’t afford to lose,” a Beijing academic said to the state-run Global Times.

Another Global Times piece quoted more Chinese academics expounding on theories that the Chengdu consulate was a headquarters for “intelligence-gathering” activities by the United States:

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 U.S. in China.

[…]

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 U.S., just as U.S. 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.” 

The latter comment was a reference to a speech delivered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday in which he urged the free people of the world to stand up to Chinese Communist oppression. Pompeo was extremely critical of the Chinese government, and he urged the civilized world to work together for meaningful reform in China, but he did not call for a “color revolution” or regime change.

More “experts” poured forth in yet another editorial from the Global Times to praise the CCP for its wisdom and restraint in choosing Chengdu as the consulate to close in retaliation. They all condemned the U.S. for provoking a diplomatic crisis, indulging in “adventurism,” and acting “out of line.” Some of them were the same “experts” quoted in the other stories, but Chinese state media would not expect its readers to notice such repetition.

The Global Times also found an American “expert” willing to pre-emptively blame the United States for starting a war in the South China Sea by pushing the CCP too far:

Ezra Vogel, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and leading American scholar on East Asian affairs, told the Global Times in an earlier interview that unfortunately, there is a possibility of an armed confrontation between the two countries. “If there is a little scuffle in the South China Sea, it could soon escalate. And if the countries failed to control it, it could be devastating and everybody would lose,” he said.

When the Global Times got around to writing an official editorial praising the Chengdu decision, it simply quoted the dozen op-eds it had already written, added some more vitriol against Mike Pompeo, and worked very hard to pretend it could not understand why any reasonable person would be unhappy with the conduct of the Chinese Communist Party right now.

“The current US administration is dismantling the construction of China-U.S. relations almost with a bulldozer. They have politicized China-U.S. trade and politicized people-to-people exchanges including educational cooperation. Numerous Chinese students in the U.S. were suspected to be ‘Chinese spies,’ while some Chinese scholars have been persecuted in the U.S. Several Chinese media outlets including the Global Times were designated by the U.S. as ‘foreign missions.’ From diplomats to journalists and students, the Chinese people are facing a completely different environment in the U.S. Now the U.S. has decided to take action against the Chinese consulate in Houston,” the CCP paper said.

“The U.S. is constantly escalating anti-China moves and is forcing China to hit back. The Chinese side is facing a dilemma: It would appear weak if it doesn’t fight back, which will lead to a series of consequences, seriously hurting China’s long-term national interests. However, after reciprocal measures are taken to fight back, China and the U.S. are pushed further away; decoupling is accelerating and strategic risk is rising in Asia Pacific region,” the Global Times added, leaning into that thinly-veiled threat to initiate military hostilities in the South China Sea and blame it on the United States.

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