Policemen walk past the US consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan province on Saturday. Noel Celis/AFP
Security was tight outside the US consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu on Saturday as staff inside prepared to leave, a day after China ordered it to close in response to a US order for China to shut its consulate in Houston.
The tit-for-tat consulate closures have brought a sharp deterioration in relations between the world's two largest economies.
A consulate emblem inside the compound was removed as staff could be seen pushing trolleys and several consulate vehicles came and went.
Police, including many plain clothes officers, gathered outside and closed off the street to traffic.
Neither the consulate in the southwestern Chinese city nor the US embassy in Beijing have responded to requests from Reuters for comment on the closure.
The Chinese order to close it was retaliation after the Trump administration gave China until 4 p.m. last Friday to vacate its consulate in the Texas city.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate had been "a hub of spying and intellectual property theft".
The US consulate in Chengdu was also given 72 hours to close, or until 10am on Monday, the editor of China's Global Times tabloid said on Twitter.
The consulate opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees, including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was not immediately clear how many are there now after US diplomats were evacuated from China because of the pandemic.
A steady stream of people walked along the street opposite the entrance throughout the day, many stopping to take photos or videos before police moved them on.
At the Houston consulate, staff packed up belongings watched by jeering protesters. Shortly after the closure order took effect a group of men who appeared to be US officials were seen forcing open a back door to the facility.
Residents in Chengdu expressed mixed views on the closure of the US consulate in the city.
"What I fear the most is the US won't just stop there, it might get uglier," said 19-year-old university student Zhang Chuhan.
"I approve. The US closed our consulate, I think we should shut theirs too," said a man who identified himself as Jiang, 29.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated this year to what experts say is their lowest level in decades over issues ranging from trade and technology to the novel coronavirus, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin has said some personnel at the Chengdu consulate were "conducting activities not in line with their identities" and had interfered in China's affairs and harmed its security interests. He did not say how.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s comments follow the denial of a bail request in California for a university researcher accused of lying about her ties to China’s military and governing Communist Party to gain access to the United States.
From the outset, European equities kicked lower on simmering US-China tensions with Frankfurt and Paris playing catch-up with London after a long holiday weekend.
The US has ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, according to a media outlet, police were told that occupants were given until 4 p.m. Friday to leave the property.
Yet the forced closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston and China’s order to shutter the US consulate in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu mark a new low point in ties between the world’s largest economies that can’t be easily smoothed over.
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