US consulate in Chengdu closes

By Cui Meng in Chengdu, Chen Qingqing and Yang Sheng in Beijing Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/27 21:56:53

Shutdown provides lessons on crisis handling amid growing tensions

After the closed US Consulate General in Chengdu was taken over by Chinese authorities, workers cover the nameplate on the premise's exterior wall with a white board on Monday afternoon. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

 The US Consulate General in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province officially closed on Monday, following a decision the Chinese government was forced to make, as the Chinese consulate in Houston was abruptly demanded by the US to close down last week. 

The procedure was carried out in a decent and legitimate manner, showing respect on the diplomatic level and providing a lesson on crisis-handling even as US-China relations have been quickly spiraling downward in recent days, experts said. 

In retaliation for the US order to close China's consulate in Houston on July 21, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday morning ordered the US to shut down its consulate in Chengdu, giving its staff 72 hours to leave. Consulate staff left, while workers removed the official US seal in front of the consulate during the weekend, and cleaners were seen carting black bags from the premises, with one appearing to have contained shredded paper, media reported. 

On Monday at 6:18 am, the American flag was lowered at the consulate, video footage showed. The Global Times reporter saw cranes hoisting containers inside the main entrance of the US consulate, while crowds gathered to witness the "historic" moment, taking photos and videos. In fact, since Saturday, people and vehicles were frequently seen going in and out of the consulate, and a crowd quietly gathered behind the police cordon in front of the consulate's main entrance.

The premises were officially closed at 10 am on Monday. That's when Chinese authorities took over the premises, the Foreign Ministry said. 

The process of closing the consulate and withdrawing personnel was in keeping with China's requirements, which was also carried out in a legitimate and decent manner despite rising tensions between the US and China in recent months, some observers said. 

The Chinese public has demonstrated mixed feelings about the closure of the US consulate. The topic gained much attention in recent days, and has also been widely discussed. While some netizens cheered the shutdown and considered it as a strong retaliation to US long-term bullying and coercion tactics on China-related affairs, some expressed their thanks to the US diplomats who have contributed to mutual understanding between the two countries. Such diverse reactions amid growing China-US tensions also reflected an increasingly mature and comprehensive understanding of the US today, observers said. 

Photo: Cui Meng/GT

'Necessary and legitimate'

China's decision to demand the closure of the US consulate in Chengdu is a legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable move of the US to abruptly close China's consulate in Houston, and to forcibly enter it, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, told a press conference on Monday. 

What China did is in consistence with international law, and the basic norms of international relations and diplomatic practices, Wang said. 

The shutdowns could provide a lesson for the two sides on how to manage a crisis, particularly when there's little communication between them, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"If the two countries continue to encounter conflicts in other aspects, for example, on the Taiwan question or the South China Sea affairs, hopefully, this crisis management approach could help prevent them from further escalating," Li said. 

As a consulate compound is a diplomatic and consular premise, the receiving country has the duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the buildings against any intrusion or damage, according to the Vienna Convention. However, China condemned US law enforcement's forcible entry into the Chinese consulate in Houston on Friday, with Hua Chunying, the ministry's spokesperson, describing it as "no different from burglary."

"How to handle the premises depends on whether it's rented or owned," Ma Chengyuan, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Though the buildings are no longer diplomatic premises, if China owns the building in Houston, the US must protect it, Ma noted. 

The Global Times learned that China's consulate premises in Houston are owned by China, while the US consulate in Chengdu was rented. 

Shutdown's aftermath 

Ordering another country to close a consulate within US territory is unusual. The first under the Trump administration took place in September 2017, when the US ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco to retaliate for Russia's decision on July 2, 2017 to expel 755 US diplomats, after the US Congress passed a bill sanctioning Russia on the Crimea issue.  

But in March 2018, the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats and ordered Russia to close its consulate in Seattle for the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK, which the West claimed Moscow was responsible for. Russia retaliated by closing the US consulate in St. Petersburg, and expelled the same number of US diplomats.

After this, the US also launched sanctions against Russian individuals and firms, which caused further damage to Russia's economy and stock market. The closed consulates have never reopened.

Chinese observers said that the US is likely to close more Chinese consulates or arrest Chinese nationals and expel Chinese diplomats in the US, as tensions could not be fixed before the US election in November. The Trump administration needs to use Sinophobia to distract from its domestic pressure to save Donald Trump's falling approval ratings.

After the presidential election, no matter who wins, if the US finds it necessary to fix ties with China to save its economy or solve the pandemic problem, then the consulates could be reopened. But this depends entirely on the US, they noted.

"Whether there will be further escalation and more shutdowns of consulates depends on how the US acts," Li said, noting that if Trump would create a positive environment for trade delegations from both sides, which are reportedly scheduled to meet in August, Washington may stop closing more consulates. 

A farewell message that the US Embassy in China posted on social media on Monday and addressed to its consulate in Chengdu was followed by comments from Chinese netizens with mixed feelings. 

"Today, we say goodbye to the US Consulate General in Chengdu. We'll miss you forever," said a post published by the US Embassy in China on China's Twitter-like Weibo, along with a short video showing the history of the consulate in Chengdu. 

"We don't miss you at all because you are too hypocritical!" a Chinese netizen said in a message left below the US embassy's original post. 

"It is you who have initiated the diplomatic conflicts!!" a netizen said, in addition to a number of posts with the "R.I.P." signs.

Some observers saw a flood of messages on the US Embassy's Weibo as the Chinese people's way to express their feelings, as the Chinese public is very familiar with US-style propaganda and showing-off, or the intention of seeking a color revolution in China. But some feel pity for American hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who are ruining the future of bilateral relations. 

Jim Mullinax, the US Consul General in Chengdu, said in a WeChat post that "it was a sad day." Though the current situation is amidst a complete darkness, it's believed that we'll find a new way to establish the friendship between the two sides,Jim said in the post, according to media reports, according to media reports, citing the post.  

Some Chinese netizens also expressed their thanks for the US consulate for serving as a bridge for better understanding the US, and enhancing communication with Americans. "We thank you!" "Pompeo screw it up…" read messages on Weibo. 

In the past few years, whenever there have been major ups and downs or problems in China-US relations, Chinese people often expressed their feelings in a sad way, and some even resorted to more emotional expressions, Zhang Yiwu, a Peking University professor, told the Global Times on Monday. 

But this time, the Chinese public showed a calm attitude, and even some sense of humor, he noted. 

"The change in the public mentality is remarkable, as the calm stems from a much clearer view of the world, with a rational attitude in the face of growing challenges," Zhang said.  

Posted in: DIPLOMACY

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