China closes U.S. Consulate in Chengdu; State Dept. takes over Houston site

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July 24 (UPI) — China on Friday ordered the United States to close its consulate in southwestern Chengdu, as U.S. agents took over Beijing’s Houston Consulate less than an hour after diplomats were ordered to vacate.

In a statement, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it notified the U.S. Embassy in China that its license to operate the Chengdu U.S. Consulate general has been revoked and that it must stop all activities there.

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“The measure by China is a legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the U.S.,” the ministry said. “The current situation in China-U.S. relations is not what China desires to see, and the U.S. is responsible for all this.”

The ministry urged the United States to “immediately retract its wrong decision and create necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track.”

The U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu was established in 1985 and has been overseen by U.S. Consul General Jim Mullinax since August 2017.

Friday’s move came two days after U.S. officials closed the Chinese Consulate in Houston, accusing it of spying and stealing intellectual property. The United States gave workers at the consulate 72 hours to vacate the premises.

The Houston Chronicle reported that less than an hour after the deadline passed at 4 p.m., a State Department official entered the building with help from a fire department to open the doors.

CNN reported there were several black SUVs, trucks, two white vans and a locksmith’s van on the property as U.S. agents took over the location.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked Beijing on Thursday, saying the Houston Consulate was closed “because it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft.”

China has denied the accusations as “vicious slanders” and said its missions have promoted “bilateral friendship and cooperation.”

“The U.S. demand of the closure of China’s Consulate General in Houston is in serious violation of international law” and “severely damages bilateral relations, a move that undercuts the bond of friendship between Chinese and American people,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news conference.

The consulate closures come at a time of deteriorating relations between the United States and China.

The Trump administration has taken a harder stance against Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s regime, passing legislation to punish it over its human rights record in Hong Kong and Xinjiang province, where it’s accused of detaining some 1 million Uighur Muslims. It has also labeled several Chinese state media in the United States as foreign missions and rejected China’s claims to the South China Sea as unlawful.

Beijing has responded by expelling U.S. journalists and imposing visa restrictions against specific U.S. politicians who have voiced anger over treatment of Hong Kong protesters and its Muslim minority citizens. The government has repeatedly demanded the United States to stop interfering with its internal business.

Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation announced charges against four Chinese researchers for visa fraud, for not revealing their status as members of China’s military when they applied for entry to the United States.

Three have been arrested, but agents believe the fourth, Juan Tang, a biology researcher at the University of California, Davis, is being harbored by China’s San Francisco Consulate.

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