The US flag was lowered this morning. Hundreds of people watched the "historic" moment. The US has a long list of accusations against China, including "espionage" and "intellectual property theft". Tensions between the two powers are growing.
Chengdu (AsiaNews) – At 6.24 am, the Stars and Stripes was lowered for the last time at the US consulate in Chengdu (Sichuan), as the deadline imposed by China’s Foreign Ministry expired. The order given by Beijing 72 hours earlier came in retaliation for the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston (Texas) decreed by Washington.
Hundreds of Chinese people had gathered in the streets since yesterday to witness the closure of the US consulate, a fact defined by some as "historic" since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1979.
Many of them waved Chinese flags and took selfies in the main street. When a minibus carrying some of the US staff came out yesterday, people shouted their contempt. Likewise, on Friday when Chinese personnel left the Texan consulate, many Americans shouted slogans against China.
Three days ago, at a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that staff at the consulate were "engaged in activities outside of their capacity, interfered in China's internal affairs, and endangered China's security and interests”.
Last Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Chinese consulate in Houston of being “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft”. For Pompeo, the constructive relationship between the United States and China was a failure.
“We must admit a hard truth that [. . .] the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done,” Pompeo said Thursday. “We must not continue it and we must not return to it.”
The closure of their respective consulates adds a new element to the growing tensions between Beijing and Washington. A year ago, US President Donald Trump launched a trade war against Chinese imports, and China has done the same for US products.
Trump also continues to blame Beijing for new coronavirus pandemic. Without any evidence, China has accused the US military of bringing the virus to Wuhan.
Washington has also criticised Beijing for imposing a new security law on Hong Kong and applied sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for undermining democracy in the territory. Beijing replied that Hong Kong was an "internal affair" of China.
Last week a Singaporean man confessed of being a spy in Beijing's service. Four other Chinese in the US - Wang Xin, Song Chen, Zhao Kaikai and Tang Juan - have been accused of not revealing that they were members of China’s military.
The first three were arrested, the fourth, Tang Juan, took refuge in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, suspected of stealing military secrets and intellectual property. It is precisely after her escape that the US decided to shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston.
If tensions in the South China Sea are added tothe picture, there is a real possibility of new clashes or even a break.