CHENGDU: The United States’ flag outside its consulate in China’s Chengdu city was lowered on Monday as tensions continue to soar between Washington and Beijing on the coronavirus blame-game, trade and a host of other issues.
Footage on state broadcaster CCTV from outside the consulate showed the flag being slowly lowered early Monday morning, after diplomatic tensions soared between the two powers with both alleging the other had endangered national security.
Relations deteriorated in recent weeks in a Cold War-style standoff, with the Chengdu mission Friday ordered to shut in retaliation for the forced closure of Beijing’s consulate in Houston, Texas.
The deadline for the Americans to exit Chengdu has been unclear, but the Chinese consulate in Houston was given 72 hours to close after the original order was made.
The road leading to the Chengdu consulate was closed on Monday, with police and cordons blocking the way.
State media reported that staff members had left the compound at around 6am Monday morning.
Over the weekend, removal trucks entered the site and cleaners were seen carting large black rubbish bags from the consulate.
On Saturday AFP reporters saw workers removing the US insignia from the front of the building.
A constant stream of onlookers in the city of 16.5 million people flowed past over the weekend, many taking photos.
Beijing says closing the Chengdu consulate was a “legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable measures by the United States”, and has alleged that staff at the diplomatic mission endangered China´s security and interests.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that some US staff in the Chengdu consulate “were engaged in activities outside of their capacity, interfered in China´s internal affairs, and endangered China´s security and interests”.
Washington officials, meanwhile, said there had been unacceptable efforts by the Chinese consulate in Houston to steal US corporate secrets and proprietary medical and scientific research.
Tensions have soared between the world’s two biggest economic powers on a range of fronts including trade, China’s handling of the novel coronavirus and a tough new security law for Hong Kong, with US officials warning of a “new tyranny” from China.
The last Chinese diplomats left the Houston consulate last Friday, with officials there seen loading large sacks of documents and other items onto trucks, and throwing some in bins.
Beijing said Saturday that US agents “forcibly” entered the Houston consulate, which it said was “China’s national property”.
Its statement warned that “China will make a proper and necessary response in this regard”.
Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times warned in an editorial Monday that if Washington was “determined to push China-US ties in the worst direction… the 21st century will be darker and even more explosive than the Cold War era”.
It said the rising tensions could lead to “unprecedented catastrophe”.