China orders US to shut down Chengdu consulate, Houston retaliation

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During the daily Foreign Ministry briefing Thursday, Wang Wenbin, the ministry’s senior spokesperson, denied that Chinese diplomats had engaged in inappropriate activities and called on the United States not to act against students or Chinese academics.

China’s decision to close a consulate was overdue. China had warned earlier in the week that it would retaliate in kind. At the same time, the government seems reluctant to escalate.

Yet China’s selection of the Chengdu consulate for closure instead of the partially closed US consulate in Wuhan may further annoy the Trump administration. The United States closed the Wuhan consulate and evacuated all staff after the Chinese government locked down the city on January 23 in response to the widespread emergence of the novel coronavirus in that country.

China has strongly complained that the United States has only given its diplomats 72 hours to leave the Houston consulate. The public statement released by the Foreign Ministry did not set a deadline for closing the Chengdu consulate. There was no immediate comment from the State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Wang said on Thursday that the Foreign Office helped the United States begin returning personnel to Wuhan last month for the resumption of some operations there. Houston and Wuhan are sister cities.

The immediate effect of closing the two consulates is expected to be minimal in the short term, especially since the visas they normally process have become moot at a time when travel has been severely limited by the coronavirus pandemic.

One difficulty for China in closing American consulates is that they are needed by many Chinese families. The U.S. consulates in China issued 1.26 million visas in the past fiscal year.

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