The U.S. Consulate in Chengdu is pictured on July 23, 2020 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China.
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WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. officials would not address Friday whether the Trump administration intends to comply with an order to close an American Consulate in China, a move that comes on the heels of Washington’s forced closure of a Chinese Consulate in Houston.
On Friday morning, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to cease operations at its consulate in Chengdu, a city in southwest China’s Sichuan province.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said some U.S. Chengdu consulate personnel were “conducting activities not in line with their identities” and had harmed China’s security interests, but would not elaborate.
“The current situation in China-U.S. relations is not what China desires to see and the U.S. is responsible for all this. We once again urge the U.S. to immediately retract its wrong decision and create necessary conditions for bringing the bilateral relationship back on track,” he added.
Earlier in the week, the Trump administration ordered China to close its consulate in Houston. Officials said the decision to shut down the Chinese Consulate was made to secure U.S. intellectual property and curb Chinese espionage.
A senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the U.S. decision to close the Chinese consulate in Houston as “serious” and reflective of “long-standing concerns.” The person also said that the Trump administration would be prepared to deal with second- and third-order effects in the wake of this decision, but would not elaborate.
“On their decision to close Chengdu, you’re going to have to ask them, the MFA, about how they picked that,” the official said. The same official said the Department of State would continue to send U.S. diplomats to China saying, “We still have a job to do out there.”
Meanwhile, Beijing has not publicly agreed to evacuate from its consulate in Houston. When asked how the U.S. may respond, the State Department official said, “I’m not going to speculate about how this rolls out in Houston.”
The latest revelation comes as the Department of Justice charged four Chinese nationals with visa fraud in California and Indiana after they allegedly lied about their Chinese military service.
The arrests were described as “a microcosm of a broader network of individuals in more than 25 cities,” a senior Justice Department official said.
“By their very nature consulates are a base of operations for foreign governments to the United States, including their intelligence services and it’s understood that there will be some activity here by those services,” the person said.
“But because of their location within the United States and their status of sovereign territory of a foreign country, they can be exploited and the espionage and influence activities run out of a consulate can rise, ultimately to a level that threatens our national security,” the official added.