China orders US to shut consulate in Chengdu in retaliation for Houston closure

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China on Friday ordered the United States to close its consulate in the city of Chengdu, responding to a U.S. demand this week that China close its Houston consulate, as relations between the world’s two largest economies deteriorate.

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The order to close the consulate in Chengdu, in south-western China’s Sichuan province, was seen as roughly reciprocal in terms of scale and impact, continuing China’s recent practice of like-for-like responses to U.S. actions.

China had warned it would retaliate after it was unexpectedly given 72 hours, until Friday, to vacate its Houston consulate, and had urged the U.S. to reconsider.

“The U.S. move seriously breached international law, the basic norms of international relations, and the terms of the China-U.S. Consular Convention. It gravely harmed China-U.S. relations.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China informed the U.S. Embassy in China of its decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said some Chengdu consulate personnel were “conducting activities not in line with their identities” and had interfered in China’s affairs and harmed China’s security interests, but he did not say how.

“The consulate was given 72 hours to close, or until 10 a.m. on Monday,’’ the editor of the Global Times newspaper said on Twitter.

According to its website, the consulate opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees including about 150 locally hired staff.

It was not immediately clear how many are there now after a significant number of U.S. diplomats were evacuated from China during the early stages of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Global share markets fell after the announcement, led by a heavy drop in Chinese blue chips, which fell 4.4 per cent, while the Yuan hit a two-week low.

The U.S. State Department warned American citizens in China of a greater risk of arbitrary law enforcement including detention and a ban on leaving, repeating a similar warning two weeks ago.

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