China has officially ordered the U.S. to close its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu in an expected retaliation against the ordered closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston earlier this week.
"On the morning of July 24, 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China notified the U.S. Embassy in China that China has decided to revoke the permission for the establishment and operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu and put forward specific requirements for the Consulate General to stop all business and activities," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.
Beijing defended its response as, "a legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable actions of the United States."
"The U.S. unilaterally provoked the incident," the statement said, and had "violated international law and the basic norms of international relations" by ordering the Houston consulate closure and "seriously damaged Sino-U.S. relations."
This comes as the Chinese Consul General in Houston appeared defiant to continue operations, telling Politico on Thursday that his office would remain open "until further notice."
Opened in 1985, the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu is a strategically important outpost for the U.S. mission in China, covering the southwestern region of China, including Tibet and the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. According to its website, the consulate has roughly 50 US diplomats stationed there during pre-pandemic times, with an additional 150 Chinese national staff members.
The closure of the Chengdu would be roughly reciprocal to the 60 or so Chinese diplomats stationed in Houston.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the move to close the Houston Chinese consulate calling it, "a hub of spying and intellectual property theft" in a fiery speech he delivered at the Nixon Library in California on Thursday.
The Chengdu U.S. consulate has figured prominently in recent Chinese politics. In 2012, a political scandal erupted there when the former police chief and vice mayor of the mega-city of Chongqing Wang Lijun sought refuge inside after falling out with then-powerful Chinese politician Bo Xilai, who was seen as Xi Jinping's potential rival within the Chinese Communist Party Politburo. The incident precipitated Bo's fall and paved the way for Xi's smooth ascendency to head the Communist Party later that year.
In its Chinese statement Thursday, the Foreign Ministry left an opening for reconciliation, saying the current situation between the two countries regrettable and urged the "U.S. to immediately revoke the erroneous decision to create necessary conditions for the return of bilateral relations to normal."