Authorities have tightened security outside the United States consulate in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu as American staff prepared to leave, a day after China ordered it to close in response to a US order for China to shut its consulate in Houston.
The tit-for-tat closures represent a sharp deterioration in relations between the countries, which have the world’s two largest economies, with China’s foreign affairs ministry accusing the US of violating international and bilateral agreements.
China’s foreign affairs ministry promised to respond to the incident, but did not elaborate on how.
The accusation comes soon after a group of men who appeared to be US officials were seen forcing open a back door to the Houston facility after the closure order.
“As for the US side’s forcible entry into the premises of the Chinese Consulate General in Houston, China expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition,” the ministry said in a statement. “China will make a proper and necessary response to this.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for his part, has said the consulate in Houston had been “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft”.
In Chengdu, on Saturday, spectators snapped photos outside the US consulate as police in T-shirts and surgical masks stood on the sidewalk and the closed-off street in front of the walled compound.
The US consulate emblem inside the compound was taken down and staff could be seen moving about. Three removal vans were later seen in the compound.
Plain-clothes officers also arrested a man who tried to hold up a sign near the consulate, according to the Reuters news agency, although it was not clear what the sign said.
The wide-ranging tensions between the two countries have included US allegations that China is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic, the sanctioning of Chinese officials over the treatment of minority Muslim Uighurs, China’s imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong, and the continuing dispute over the South China Sea.
The Chengdu consulate, which has been given until 10am (02:00 GMT) on Monday to close, opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees, including about 150 locally-hired staff, according to its website. There are four other US consulates in mainland China.
The Justice Department said Tang lied in an application last October as she made plans to work at the University of California, Davis and again during an FBI interview months later. Agents found photos of Tang dressed in military uniform and reviewed articles in China identifying her military affiliation.
Agents said they believe Tang sought refuge at the consulate after they interviewed her at her home in the city of Davis on June 20.