China tells US to close consulate in Chengdu in growing spat

BEIJING (AP) — China ordered the United States (US) yesterday to close its consulate in the western city of Chengdu, ratcheting up a diplomatic conflict at a time when relations have sunk to their lowest level in decades.

The move was a response to the US President Donald Trump administration’s order this week for Beijing to close its consulate in Houston after Washington accused Chinese agents of trying to steal medical and other research in Texas.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry appealed to Washington to reverse its “wrong decision”.

Chinese-US relations have soured amid a mounting array of conflicts including trade, the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, technology, spying accusations and Hong Kong.

“The measure taken by China is a legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the US,” said a Foreign Ministry statement.

File photo shows a FedEx employee removing a box from the Chinese Consulate in Houston. PHOTO: AP

“The current situation in Chinese-US relations is not what China desires to see. The US is responsible for all this,” the ministry said.

“We once again urge the US to immediately retract its wrong decision and create necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track.”

On Tuesday, the Trump administration ordered the Houston consulate closed within 72 hours. It alleged Chinese agents tried to steal data from facilities including the Texas A&M medical system.

The ministry on Thursday rejected the allegations as “malicious slander” and warned the Houston consulate’s closure was “breaking down the bridge of friendship” between the two countries.

The US has an embassy in Beijing and consulates in five other mainland cities — Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang and Wuhan. It also has a consulate in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory.

The consulate in Chengdu is responsible for monitoring Tibet and other areas in the southwest inhabited by non-ethnic Chinese minorities that are considered especially sensitive by Beijing.

Asian stock markets, already uneasy about the uncertain pace of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, fell yesterday on the news of the closure.

“Alongside the eviction of the Houston Chinese Consulate, the risk of the US-China conflict escalating into a ‘Cold War’ is worrying,” said Hayaki Narita of Mizuho Bank in a report.