Despite US demand, China refuses to commit to shutting down Houston consulate

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Cai said Beijing had asked the United States to reverse its Tuesday order to shut down the consulate, which China says violates international agreements governing diplomatic relations.

“We believe that the request on the American side … is not in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs and no longer in accordance with international practice or [diplomatic] standards, and it violates the Sino-US consular treaty, ”Cai said. “We prepared for the worst-case scenario, but we also launched a strong protest… so we urge the United States to abandon and revoke this bad decision.”

Cai’s remarks come as the South China Morning Post reported that Beijing is likely to close an American consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, which is strategically important to the United States given its interest in Tibet. But the Houston consulate chief declined to comment on how Beijing should respond to the order to close its office.

Cai stressed that he was the main Chinese government official in Houston, but Chinese experts said he was unlikely to have the power to decide on his own to keep the consulate open.

“I would be very surprised if the consulate itself could decide without listening to Beijing,” said Ho-Fung Hung, professor of political economy and sociology who focuses on China at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “They have to wait for orders from Beijing to find out what to do, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Beijing and the United States were [talking] through the return channels, discussing the situation.

“Beijing could give instructions to the consulate at the last minute on what to do,” he added. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts said a refusal to close the consulate would be unprecedented in the history of US-China relations, noting that even the Russian government did not resist when the United States closed two of its diplomatic annexes in 2017. .

“I interpret [Cai’s] Said Carla Freeman, director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Hopkins. ” Because [not closing the consulate] would be totally unprecedented.

But if China tries to keep its consulate open, experts said the United States could revoke visas for Cai and his staff, allowing federal agents to arrest them and potentially deport them. It was not clear if the shutdown request included the expulsion of Cai and his staff, but he told POLITICO he had no plans to leave the country immediately.

Later Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to deliver a speech on China that should include a call for the Chinese people to pressure or transform the ruling Communist Party, according to the Wall Street Journal. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the consequences it could impose if China refused to close the consulate, which has been open since 1979.

U.S. officials accused the Chinese Consulate in Houston of being part of a Communist Party spy operation in the United States Wednesday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, tweeted that the office is the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies and influence operations in the United States.”

Cai rejected these claims, saying the consulate’s activities were in line with international agreements and did not differ from the actions of other countries, including the United States. word of the State Department order.

“We never did that,” he said, referring to espionage. “What we have done is very legal and respects the law and normal practice.”

Instead of espionage, he said the consulate had engaged in “masked diplomacy”. Cai, who was posted to Houston in August, said he made arrangements for masks from China to be delivered to Houston and as far away as Georgia.

“We made no comment on what happened here” regarding the coronavirus pandemic, he said. “But we knew some people needed help and needed help, which is why we sent the masks. “

The consul general then denounced the “double standard” of US officials who view donations of Chinese masks as a “hidden agenda” to bolster the image of the ruling Communist Party in China, claiming that other nations’ charity does not is not viewed so critically.

“We can’t have a double standard,” he said. “China is a communist country whether you like it or not. Our government is the Chinese Communist Party, and we are very proud of it. “

If China refuses to close the embassy on Friday, Hung said a standoff between the two largest economies would likely be welcomed by President Donald Trump, who has stepped up his rhetoric against Beijing as his re-election effort falters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, faces pressure from elites in his country to defuse tensions with the United States in order to avoid the imposition of additional financial sanctions and visa restrictions. These sanctions are already weighing on wealthy and connected members of the Communist Party who keep much of their wealth abroad, he said.

“Xi Jinping started to face pressure from other elites and leaders over his very tough and aggressive approach to the United States,” Hung said. “He has the instinct to show he’s a tough guy, but at the same time, I believe there are a growing number of Chinese elites who are seeing their interests harmed by a conflict with the United States. About Hong Kong or other things.

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