On Wednesday, the US State Department made known its decision to close the Chinese consulate in Houston, a move that has added embers to the already burning tension between the two countries.
The US said the latest move has been to protect American intellectual property and the private information of American citizens.
Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokesperson said the US will not condone the People’s Republic of China’s violations of her sovereignty and intimidation of her people, citing the Vienna Convention which says diplomats must “respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State” and “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”
She said Washington has stood up to China on unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior, and will continue to do so.
In response, China promised to retaliate if the decision is not reversed. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said of the US at a daily news briefing that “the unilateral closure of China’s consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China.”
Recent events have compounded the relationship between Beijing and Washington, which include the trade conflict, the coronavirus pandemic, intellectual theft, spying accusations, Hong Kong and the rights abuse of Uighur Muslims.
The US said the embassy in Houston was shut down because some Chinese nationals were carrying out spying operations on American technology from there.
In retaliation, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that the US diplomats in China have been notified that Beijing was revoking the license for the Chengdu consulate located in southwest China. The Ministry accused the United States of stoking a fresh conflict that cannot go unanswered because they “seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations,” and therefore it ordered the shutdown of the Chengdu consulate.
“The current situation between China and the United States is something China does not want to see, and the responsibility rests entirely with the United States. We once again urge the US to immediately revoke the erroneous decision to create necessary conditions for the return of bilateral relations to normal,” the Ministry said.
Just like the US, Wenbin accused the staff in the Chengdu consulate “of interfering in China’s internal affairs and harming China’s national security interests.”
The US has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website; they are in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenyang and Wuhan.
But the Wuhan consulate had been closed earlier due to coronavirus, and has remained closed because Chinese authorities insist that US diplomats must undergo coronavirus tests to be allowed to work in the city once again, a move seen by Washington as an attempt by China to collect the DNA of the diplomats.
The closure of Chengdu consulate will hurt the US because it is the capital of China’s southwest Sichuan province, which is an important diplomatic outpost for the US, as it covers a vast region of China, including the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
It means two out of the five US consulate offices in China have been closed. But president Trump said he may be closing more Chinese consulates in the United States over spying activities.
As the tension escalates, it touches more areas. On Friday, the US State Department issued a warning to Americans in China about “heightened risk of arbitrary detention.”
According to the notice, “US citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security.’”
Recently, accusations against China by US officials have heightened. The US Secretary of States Mike Pompeo has been on a mission to persuade European allies to limit their ties with China on accusation that they steal intellectual property and take it back to their country.
Pompeo said that past US policies have empowered China to take advantage of the United States economically.
“As president Trump has made very clear, we need a strategy that protects the American economy and indeed our way of life. The free world must triumph over this new tyranny. The truth is that our policies – and those of other free nations – resurrected China’s failing economy, only to Beijing bite the international hands that were feeding it. We opened our arms to Chinese citizens, only to see the Chinese Communist Party exploit our free and open society,” he said.
As the tension between the world’s largest economies deteriorates and draws close to a cold war, tech companies of Chinese origin are likely going to feel the impact more.
Pompeo and a host of US lawmakers have been campaigning to ban TikTok and other Chinese apps, a treatment that Huawei received last year. The United States believes that Western democracy enabled China to exert global dominance, especially in tech and it needs to be put back in its place.