Tensions escalate between China and the United States. China recently asked the United States to lift the consulate in Houston – to no avail. Now US officials have entered the building.
Three days after the order to close the consulate in Houston, Chinese diplomats have cleared the representation in the Texas metropolis. “We can confirm that the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Houston is closed,” said a State Department spokesman. US media reported that after the diplomats left, US officials entered the building.
The U.S. government ordered the consulate to close on Tuesday. In retaliation, the Beijing leadership ordered the US consulate in Chengdu, southwest of the country, to be closed. There, employees packed their belongings on Saturday and removed US insignia from the building. Until when the consulate employees must have left the building is unclear. AFP reporters observed that cleaners were already dragging several large garbage bags out of the building. A worker also removed the round consulate plaque from the facade. The US flag was initially still hanging.
China wanted to prevent the consulate from being closed
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Chinese consulate in Houston a “hub of espionage and theft of intellectual property.” It had to be closed to protect the American people. A State Department official said the closure was part of a “conscious effort” to put China’s relationship on a “solid footing.” Due to the closure of the consulates, dozens of diplomats from both sides have to return to their homes.
China had unsuccessfully asked the United States to reverse the closing of the Houston consulate so that bilateral relations could return to normal. The State Department in Beijing announced that the US consulate in Chengdu had been withdrawn from its license to operate. This is a “legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable acts of the United States”. The government of US President Donald Trump is solely to blame. “The responsibility rests entirely with the United States.”
Relationships at a historic low
The ordered closings exacerbate tensions between the two largest economies. The major powers are already in dispute over China’s handling of the Corona virus outbreak, trade policy and tough Chinese practices in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. From a Chinese perspective, the relationship is as bad as it has been since diplomatic relations began in 1979.
Pompeo had emphasized that the Vienna Convention required diplomats to respect the laws and regulations of the host country concerned. They also had the duty “not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state”. China again denied the allegations.
US government accuses China of “malicious activity”
Beijing now accused the consulate staff in Chengdu of spying. “Some staff at the US Consulate General have carried out activities that are inconsistent with their identity, interfered in China’s domestic affairs, and harmed China’s security interests,” said State Secretary Wang Wenbin. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the influential Global Times, wrote on Twitter that, to his knowledge, the US has 72 hours to close the consulate. That would be Monday morning.
A U.S. Department of Justice official said the election was not accidental to Houston. “Malicious activities” and intelligence activities have increased there. “At some point you say: enough is enough”. An intelligence official added: “It has just grown too big to be ignored.”
Pompeo wants alliance against China
Pompeo had tightened the tone towards Beijing in a keynote speech on US-Chinese relations on Thursday. He accused China of interning Muslim minorities in “concentration camps” in the Xinjiang region. The minister had previously used the term “internment camp” to describe the camps where, according to American estimates, one million people are detained.
Pompeo called on the US allies to act jointly against China. “Perhaps it is time for a new grouping of like-minded nations,” said Pompeo. “We cannot face this challenge alone.” He called the United Nations, NATO, the G7 and G20 states and their “common economic, diplomatic and military power”. However, Trump’s government has not helped strengthen international alliances in the past.