In likely retaliation for the U.S. decision to close the Chinese consulate in Houston, Beijing is reportedly planning to shut down the American consulate in Chengdu.
Chengdu is located in southwestern China and is considered a strategically important post given the U.S. interest in nearby Tibet.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and China continue to bicker over the Houston closure.
The South China Morning Post reported that David Stilwell, a senior East Asia affairs official at the U.S. State Department, characterized the Houston consulate as the “epicenter” of attempts by China’s military to send students to the U.S. in order to secure information that could upgrade Chinese military capabilities.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin mocked that assertion as “nonsense.”
“In response to the unreasonable action of the United States [in Houston], China will take necessary countermeasures to protect its legitimate interest,” Wang said.
The Chinese consulate in Houston was the first of five that Beijing opened in the U.S. after relations were normalized in 1979 — followed by consulates opening in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Wang also denied allegations that some U.S. diplomats were blocked from returning to their offices in China.
“China has always facilitated the lawful operation of the U.S. consulate,” he said.
The U.S. keeps five consulates on Mainland China – in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Chengdu and Wuhan – and also maintains a consulate general for Hong Kong and Macau.
The U.S. consulate in Chengdu opened in 1985.
Long Xingchun, president of the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs, an independent think tank, said closing the Chengdu consulate is significant due to its proximity to Tibet.
“Tibet is one of the concerns for the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. The U.S. is more concerned about Tibet and [far western province]Xinjiang,” he said.
In 2012, the Chengdu consulate became widely known after Wang Lijun, former police chief and vice-mayor of the southwestern city of Chongqing, went there to try to defect after a conflict with Bo Xilai, former Chongqing party chief.
Wang Lijun later provided evidence which incriminated Bo in misconduct — Bo was subsequently sentenced to life in prison for bribery, abuse of power and corruption. Wang Lijun himself was imprisoned for 15 years for abuse of power, bribery and defection.