China has ordered the U.S. to shutter one of its diplomatic consulates in China’s southwestern city of Chengdu.
China ordered the Chengdu consulate closure early Friday morning, The Associated Press reported. The order is a retaliatory move for the U.S. decision to close a Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, late Tuesday night.
“The measure taken by China is a legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the United States,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
“The current situation in Chinese-U.S. relations is not what China desires to see. The United States is responsible for all this,” Wang continued. “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.”
Wang said personnel at the U.S. consulate “interfered in China’s internal affairs and harmed China’s security interests,” but did not explain how. It was also unclear what time frame China provided for the U.S. to close its facility.
The U.S. consulate in Chengdu is responsible for monitoring Tibet and other areas of China’s southwest, which is populated with many non-ethnic Chinese minorities.
The U.S. appeared to respond to China’s closure order with a travel alert on Friday, warning Americans of a heightened risk of “arbitrary detention” while traveling in China.
Late Tuesday night, the U.S. provided a 72-hour notice for China to close its Houston consulate. That 72 hours is set to run out on Friday night.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the initial U.S. move to close China’s consulate was taken “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.” The closure order came hours after the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against two Chinese nationals accused of a decade-long hacking campaign that targeted hundreds of companies and institutions including four companies involved in coronavirus research.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went further in describing the potential security threat from China’s Houston consulate, saying the consulate did not act like a diplomatic facility but instead hosted Chinese efforts to carry out commercial and defense espionage.
Concerns about China’s diplomatic facilities go beyond the Houston consulate building. On Wednesday the FBI indicated their belief that the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, California has been harboring a fugitive Chinese military researcher charged with entering the U.S. under false pretenses.
U.S.-Chinese relations have shown signs of strain at various points in recent weeks. President Donald Trump recently signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, adding sanctions on individuals and entities involved in imposing broad new national security legislation over the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong.
Earlier in July, the U.S. Navy responded to Chinese state media warnings about its “carrier killer” missiles by flaunting two U.S. carrier strike groups in the disputed South China Sea.