US Embassy auction in Beijing raises speculation of ‘scaling down’

By Cao Siqi and Cui Fandi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/4 20:42:42

People wait in line to see visa officers at the US embassy in Beijing on June 26, 2012. Photo: CFP

 As China-US relations spiraled toward the lowest point since diplomatic relations were established in 1979, an auction held by the US Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday attracted a curious crowd. 

Coming on the heels of the shutdown of the US consulate in Chengdu on July 27, a forced decision in response to the unexpected order to close China's consulate in Houston, the auction also raised speculation that the embassy was "scaling down." 

Some people suspected that items from the consulate in Chengdu would appear at the auction. 

Global Times reporters went to the auction on Tuesday morning and found hundreds of people. The auction featured used items including office supplies (desks, chairs), household furniture (beds, carpets), domestic appliances (dryers, washing machines), electronic devices and accessories (computers, printers, CPUs). Most of those who went were retirees looking for a bargain, married couples looking for furniture, and some second-hand dealers looking for business opportunities.

The embassy said in a statement on its website that the auction is open to all residents aside from management/GSO property/procurement/motor pool and facility staff and their family members. It also noted that the quality and condition of the items were not guaranteed. 

A Beijing resident at the auction told the Global Times that he attended the auction to check whether it was a sign of scaling-down or even closure of the US Embassy. Others reached by the Global Times said they wondered "if the rumors were true."

However, a statement sent by the embassy press officer to the Global Times said the auction is "a normal part of disposing of used items from the embassy," which was confirmed by an embassy staff on the scene. "It has nothing to do with diplomatic scaling-down," the statement said. "Expect more auctions in the near future."

This is not the first time the US Embassy and its consulates held auctions in China. The embassy usually held two auctions every year in Beijing before the epidemic. However, this year's auction attracted much more attention from the Chinese public amid the escalation of diplomatic tensions. An embassy member of staff at the auction said he has never seen so many attendees before.

Another staff member denied a link between the auction and the closure of the US consulate in Chengdu, saying that the auction only deals with items in Beijing. 

Despite notifying the public of the auction on its website, the US embassy did not post any related information on its Weibo account with about 2.9 million followers. However, many netizens left messages on its account, saying that "it looks like the US is planning its next move."

Other posts made by the embassy were dotted with angry messages and taunts from Chinese netizens. 

For example, on July 27, the embassy sent a farewell message through its Sina Weibo account to its consulate in Chengdu, which received mixed feelings from Chinese netizens. The post and video which tried to win the sympathy of the Chinese people had the opposite effect, with netizens attacking the US hegemonic move against China. Some called it hypocritical, while others expressed sadness over deteriorating bilateral ties.


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