Opening new US Wuhan consulate office hardly corrects its negative policy toward China
Published: Jun 13, 2022 05:52 PM

China US

China US

While US ambassador to China revealed that the US will open a new office for its Consulate General in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, in September, experts on China-US relations hardly see it as a meaningful step for the improvement of bilateral ties, considering Washington's series of immature moves in diplomacy toward China over the past two years. 

Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador, who recently traveled to Wuhan, said in a Tweet on late Sunday, "Current Consul General Melissa Lan and I visited this site of our former consulate from 1915-49," with a photo of them posing in front of the former premises. The first US consul in Wuhan was appointed in 1861. "We'll dedicate our new office in September and are here to stay in Central China."

The US shut down the Consulate General in Wuhan and withdrew its staff from China to the US in January 2020 amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 26, 2020 that the US side hoped to withdraw its staff from Wuhan to the US, and China provided necessary assistance and convenience in accordance to the international terms and China's anti-epidemic rules. 

The US and China have been engaging in a row over consulate shutdowns over the past years. In retaliation to the US' move of asking China to close its Consulate General in Houston, China ordered the US to shut its Consulate General in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, in July 2020.

Recently, the US Embassy in Beijing announced on April 9 "voluntary departure," or "authorized departure," of consular officers and their families of its Consulate General in Shanghai. Three days later, the departure was upgraded to an "ordered" one, meaning non-emergency employees and all family members of the US Consulate General in Shanghai have to leave the city.

The Wuhan consulate reopened on June 2020. The US Embassy in Beijing said the Consulate General in Wuhan currently only provides emergency services and information for US citizens, and it's expected to offer regular services starting from the fall of 2022, according to its website. 

Some Chinese experts on China-US relations are cautious about if the opening of the US Consulate General in Wuhan would serve as a positive sign for China-US relations, which have been encountering increasing difficulties due to Washington's new Cold War mindset of regarding China as a long-term rival that "poses the most severe challenges." Also, the current US ambassador has not come up with any positive gestures for stabilizing bilateral relations, some observers said. 

Considering the US' moves in terms of shutting down the consulates, withdrawing diplomatic staff, and ordering China to shut down its consulate in the US, those moves are immature and the Biden administration has not walked out of the shadow of the previous administration in terms of correcting those immature moves, Lü Xiang, research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"If the US had not shut down its Wuhan consulate in the first place, it would have the opportunity to closely observe how Chinese people fought the epidemic, and provide true information about China's anti-COVID work to the US," Lü said, noting that the US chose to blame China instead of acquiring valuable first-hand information. 

Also, the current US envoy to China has not made any positive moves for China-US relations given his remarks and deeds, experts said. 

Burns told an online forum on Thursday that US relations with China are likely in the worst state since 1972 and "we have seemingly unremitting competition between us," he was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg report. He also mentioned that Americans believe China isn't playing by the rules on economics and trade. 

On the Taiwan question - a major focus in China-US relations, the two sides also have engaged in an intensive confrontation at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that closed on Sunday, as Washington has frequently used the Taiwan question to provoke China and encourage the separatist authorities on the island to worsen the region's security situation.

Still, putting Wuhan Consulate General back to normal business could be a sign for preventing the China-US relations from spiraling further downward, some experts said. 

"It also shows that the US has no worries about the epidemic situation and anti-epidemic work in Wuhan, which could also be a positive message for the US' China policy," a Beijing-based expert on China-US relations who preferred not to be identified told the Global Times on Monday.