China ordered the United States on Friday to close its consulate in the western city of Chengdu, ratcheting up a diplomatic conflict at a time when relations have sunk to their lowest level in decades.
The move was a response to the Trump administration’s order this week for Beijing to close its consulate in Houston after Washington accused Chinese agents of trying to steal medical and other research in Texas.
Later, Beijing accused some people at the consulate of interfering in China’s internal affairs and doing things went beyond the usual duties of diplomats, the Reuters news agency reported.
Chinese-U.S. relations have soured amid a mounting array of conflicts including trade, the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, technology, spying accusations, Hong Kong and allegations of abuses against Chinese ethnic Muslims.
“The measure taken by China is a legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the United States,” said a foreign ministry statement.
“The current situation in Chinese-U.S. relations is not what China desires to see. The United States is responsible for all this,” the ministry said. “We once again urge the United States to immediately retract its wrong decision and create necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track.”
Also Friday, the U.S. State Department sent out a notice warning Americans in China of a “heightened risk of arbitrary detention.”
:U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security,'” the notice said, adding that Americans may be detained or deported for “sending private electronic messages critical” of the Chinese government. The notice gave no indication of what prompted the warning.
Asian stock markets, already uneasy about the uncertain pace of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, fell Friday on the news of the closure. China’s market benchmark, the Shanghai Composite Index, lost 3.9%. Hong Kong’s main index declined 2.2%.
“Alongside the eviction of the Houston Chinese Consulate, the risk of the U.S.-China conflict escalating into a ‘Cold War’ is worrying,” said Hayaki Narita of Mizuho Bank in a report.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration ordered the Houston consulate closed within 72 hours. It alleged Chinese agents tried to steal data from facilities including the Texas A&M medical system.
The Chinese ministry on Thursday rejected the allegations as “malicious slander” and warned the Houston consulate’s closure was “breaking down the bridge of friendship” between the two countries.
The United States has an embassy in Beijing and consulates in five other mainland cities – Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang and Wuhan. It also has a consulate in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory.
The consulate in Chengdu is responsible for monitoring Tibet and other areas in the southwest inhabited by non-ethnic Chinese minorities that are considered especially sensitive by Beijing.