CHINA has ordered the US to close its consulate in Chengdu as relations between the two superpowers plunge towards a new Cold War.
It comes after the US ordered China to shutdown one of its offices in Houston amid ongoing rows over trade, spying, the coronavirus pandemic, and the South China Sea.
Donald Trump’s administration this week ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate within 72 hours after it accused agents of trying to steal medical research in Texas.
Chinese authorities have however called on Washington to reverse its decision as it said the closure of the diplomatic office was “breaking down the friendship bridge”.
And in a tit for tat response, China has now ordered the closure of the US consulate in Chengdu – also within 72 hours.
The US has an embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang, Wuhan and Hong Kong.
Shutting down the diplomatic office comes less than a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for “free nations” of the world to help take on China.
He said: “If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us.”
Tensions have been escalating amid the global pandemic for which the Trump administration has repeatedly blamed China, even dubbing the infection the “China Virus”.
Rows have also been raging over China’s claim over ownership over part of the South China Sea, with the US deploying warships to the region in a show of strength.
US President Trump has also blasted China over trade as he said signing a deal with the Communist Giant now means “much less to me” because of the pandemic.
Further rows have erupted over Hong Kong, the allegations of abuse over Chinese Muslims, and Chinese technology such as 5G from Huawei – with some fearing the start of a new Cold War.
Dramatic scenes erupted at China’s consulate in Houston following the ordered closure as workers burned documents in the courtyard.
Cops and firefighters were called to the scene in Montrose Boulevard but were denied entry to the building by Chinese officials.
Workers could be seen on video dumping papers into flaming rubbish bins – sparking speculation as to what they were trying to hide.
“You could just smell the paper burning. But all the firefighters were just surrounding the building. They couldn’t go inside,” one witness said.
US officials said China was ordered to close the consulate in Houston “to protect American intellectual property” and private information of US citizens.
The order to close was reportedly due to “massive illegal spying and influence operations”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin slammed move as “outrageous and unjustified”.
He claimed it would ruin relations between China and the US – and forewarned of counteractions.
Meanwhile, Chinese scientist Juan Tang, suspected of concealing ties to the military, has fled the Beijing’s consulate in San Fransico.
Prosecutors allege that the case is part of a Chinese scheme to send undercover army scientists to the US on false pretences.
Chinese media has also reported the Beijing’s embassy in Washington received a bomb threat on July 20 amid the plunging relations.
State-backed newspaper The Global Times meanwhile accused the US over having its “Cold War mentality fully mobilised” and warned “the US has never faced a country like China before”.
It comes as US officials imposed sanctions on 11 Chinese companies over human rights issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has significantly worsened relations, with the US having the highest case count and death toll in the world with 4million and 147,333.
Trump and his administration have sort to blame China for the virus, even going as far as suggesting the pathogen could be man made.
Covid-19 is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but there is so far no concrete evidence linking it to a Chinese lab.