China’s retaliation for the shuttering of its consulate in Houston, Texas, ended up being a tit-for-tat order to close the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, but the communist state may also close the American consulate general in Hong Kong.
China’s state-run Global Times ran an editorial Friday that suggested the Hong Kong facility might still be on the chopping block.
The Global Times made much of “social media polls” that supposedly show Chinese “netizens” are eager to close the American consulates in Hong Kong and Macao, another semi-autonomous city.
The Communist paper suggested that even if Beijing does not eliminate the Hong Kong consulate entirely, it might consider forcing the Americans to reduce staffing levels, which are ostensibly excessive because the U.S. uses its Hong Kong consulate as a hub for espionage activities – exactly the same allegation that led the United States to close China’s diplomatic facility in Houston.
“Observers estimated the U.S. consulate has more than 1,100 employees. In 2019 during the peak of Hong Kong riots, the number of employees was estimated to top 1,600, while employees of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region were fewer than 200,” the Global Times wrote, implying the U.S. sent more agents to the Hong Kong consulate in order to provoke and coordinate the 2019 protests, which Chinese state media frequently portray as a foreign plot to overthrow the island’s Beijing-controlled government.
The Global Times quoted useful “experts” who suggested China should not “act as reckless as the U.S. and abruptly order a foreign consulate to close,” but might want to take this opportunity to clean out the “U.S. intelligence presence” in Hong Kong, a city where “there are too many Americans doing espionage work in the name of diplomatic needs.”
As evidence for this assertion, the Chinese paper complained about the U.S. increasing its consulate staff from 610 to 1,000 after the U.K. handed Hong Kong over to Beijing in 1997, a U.S. consulate official meeting with some pro-democracy leaders, Edward Snowden talking about hacking computers in Hong Kong, and the fact that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used to be head of the CIA.
Naturally, the Global Times’ “experts” could find no reason to believe anyone working for the Chinese consulate in Houston was working on any sort of espionage activity.
The South China Morning Post offered a hint to the real reason why Beijing cannot close the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong by noting that stocks in both the city and Chinese exchanges tanked after the order to close the Chengdu consulate was issued.