(Photo by Noel Celis / AFP) (Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – Chinese officials entered and took control of the U.S. Consulate in the city of Chengdu early on Monday, 72 hours after ordering its closure in retaliation for the U.S. decision to shut China’s consulate in Houston. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had called the mission in Houston a “hub of spying and intellectual property theft.”
Earlier in the morning the U.S. flag was lowered at the consulate for the last time. First opened 35 years ago, the Chengdu consulate is among the smaller of the U.S. diplomatic missions in China, dealing with south-western provinces including Tibet.
The Chinese Communist Party paper Global Times said locals had gathered over the weekend behind police cordons, taking photos and videos of the consulate, with something of a carnival atmosphere prevailing. One man let off fireworks and was taken away by police.
Chinese state television trained cameras on the compound over the weekend, following the movement of vehicles in and out, including a bus, several trucks, and diplomatic vehicles.
On Friday, a 72-hour deadline set by the State Department for Chinese officials to leave the consulate in Houston expired, after which U.S. officials entered the building.
Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin in a statement deplored the move, alleging a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
“The Chinese side deplores and firmly opposes the U.S. move of forcibly entering China’s consulate general in Houston and has lodged solemn representations,” he said. “China will make legitimate and necessary reactions.”
Asked about the order for the U.S. to vacate the Chengdu consulate, Wang insisted the move was a reciprocal one. He declined to comment about the fact the U.S. mission was basically expected to pack up over the weekend, while the consulate in Houston had been given three business days, from Tuesday to Friday, to do so.
Wang alleged that irregular activity had been underway at the Chengdu consulate, but when asked to elaborate declined.
“Some staff of the U.S. consulate-general in Chengdu have engaged in activities inconsistent with their capacities, to interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s security interests,” he said, adding that “China has lodged representations on multiple occasions and the U.S. knows that very well.”
Asked if he could offer more details on the alleged activities, Wang merely repeated, “The U.S. knows this very well.”
The consulate in Chengdu was involved in a murky incident in 2012 when the police chief of a city some 250 miles away, Wang Lijun, attempted to defect. The incident was linked to a corruption scandal that brought down Wang’s boss, regional CCP chief Bo Xilai, who had been thought in line for a major leadership position in Beijing, but was instead jailed for life in 2013 for corruption, bribery, and abuse of power.
The U.S. has five other consulates in China, in Wuhan, Shanghai, Shenyang, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, in addition to the embassy in Beijing.
China has consulates in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well as its mission to the United Nations in New York, and the embassy in Beijing.
A Department of Justice official briefing reporters on background on Friday said among other troubling activities, Chinese consulates have been used as operation bases for Beijing’s so-called “Fox Hunt” teams.
“These are teams of agents sent from China here to coerce economic fugitives – meaning political rivals of President Xi, the Communist Party critics, and refugees – coercing them, that is, to return to the PRC,” the official said.
“Consulates enabled the activities of those teams. Consulates also enabled direct lobbying of state and local officials, as well as business people, to favor Chinese interests. And while that’s to be expected by diplomats, when it takes a turn towards the coercive or the covert, that becomes a national security problem.”