China has confirmed that the U.S. shuttered its Consulate General in Chengdu on Monday, setting the stage for further potential escalation between the two superpowers.
The consulate was closed Monday morning, 72 hours after Beijing ordered it closed, in a tit-for-tat reaction to the U.S. shutting down China’s consulate in Houston last Friday over an alleged espionage program.
The Chengdu consulate, which opened in 1985 in the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, lowered the U.S. national flag for the last time at dawn Monday, although most consulate staffers began evacuating the building Saturday.
“Today, we bid farewell to the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu. We will miss you forever,” said the consulate’s official statement.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: “At 10: 00 a.m. on July 27th, according to the Chinese side’s request, the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu was closed. Afterwards, Chinese authorities entered through the front entrance and took it over.”
With this latest development, the U.S. likely will go after an alleged nationwide spy network in the U.S. operating out of Chinese consulates. On Friday, a Justice Department official claimed Chinese consulates “are a microcosm, we believe, of a broader network of individuals in more than 25 cities.”
China abruptly ordered the Chengdu consulate closed Friday in retaliation for the Trump Administration’s order to shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston. The White House alleges the Houston consulate was a base for Chinese spying in the U.S.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the Houston consulate was closed “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” which is an indirect reference to spying.
Other ranking U.S. officials allege the consulate has been implicated in a fraud investigation at a Texas research institution. They also claim Chinese consulate officials “were directly involved in communications with researchers and guided them on what information to collect.”
In justifying the closure of the consulate, Secretary of State Mike Popmeo claimed China has been exploiting the U.S. for far too long and it was time to put a stop to it.
Pompeo also said the aggressive American moves are meant to stop China from turning the 21st century into the “Chinese century,” as articulated by Chinese President Xi Jinping. He also said the old policy of blind engagement by the U.S. with China will come to an end.
The Trump Administration’s campaign to more aggressively counter China has ominous Cold War overtones. Pompeo said the consulate closure is part of Trump’s strategy “that protects the American economy and indeed our way of life. The free world must triumph over this new tyranny.”
“The truth is that our policies — and those of other free nations — resurrected China’s failing economy, only to see Beijing bite the international hands that were feeding it. We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the Chinese Communist Party exploit our free and open society.”