Locals cheer as U.S. consulate in Chengdu closes, after Houston

Foreign Affairs

U.S.-China relations have got much worse in the last week. Today’s news is China’s closure of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in retaliation for the U.S. shutdown of the P.R.C.’s Houston consulate.

illustration depicting the breakdown of u.s.-china diplomatic relations as represented by the consulates in houston and chengdu being shut down and classified documents being burned
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

The U.S. consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, opened in 1985. Today, it closed at 10 a.m. local time after the Chinese government’s “withdrawal of consent for operation,” according to the U.S. State Department. “Relevant Chinese authorities then entered through the front entrance and took over the premises,” according to a Chinese state media report, which also quotes a Chinese diplomat that “the “U.S. side is responsible for all of this.”

The Chinese government took over the building in retaliation for the U.S. closing China’s consulate in Houston, Texas, last week. U.S. diplomats were given “72 hours to vacate, the same amount of time China was given to leave its Houston mission,” which was shut last week Friday. The consulate’s Twitter account featured a maudlin video captioned (in Chinese): “Today, we bid farewell to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. We will miss you forever.”

Chinese police kept American journalists and TV crews at some distance from the building but allowed residents to crowd “the streets around the consulate, taking photos and waving Chinese flags.” The government’s decision to shutter the consulate seems to have the approval of many Chengdu locals and tens of millions of internet users.

The consulate closure is the latest downturn in U.S.-China relations. The Trump administration appears to be accelerating its campaign of aggressive moves against China in a number of spheres: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week gave a speech that explicitly talked of a “new cold war” with China and said his department’s policy on Beijing was to “distrust and verify.”

Other recent actions include the U.S. sanctioning Chinese officials and companies over policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, cutting off Chinese companies’ access to American technology, and challenging Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.

And just in over the weekend: No more Fulbright scholars in China. The U.S. has confirmed “the suspension of its Fulbright programme in mainland China and Hong Kong, after President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the fellowship earlier this month.”