US lowers flag over Chinese consulate as diplomats kicked out

A paramilitary policeman, right, keeps watch outside the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, China, on Saturday, July 25, 2020. Staff at the consulate were busy packing belongings a day after Beijing ordered its closure in a tit-for-tat diplomatic battle with the U.S. government. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images/TNS) *****
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Bloomberg News (TNS)

The U.S. lowered its flag over the American consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu, the latest historic milestone marking the deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing.

American diplomats were expected to depart the consulate by Monday, two days after the U.S. government forced their Chinese counterparts out of their mission in Houston. The security cordon around the consulate, which has ebbed and flowed since China announced its decision Friday to expel the diplomats, tightened Monday morning, with police preventing pedestrians from getting within a block of the facility.

The closure of the U.S. consulate after 35 years in the southwestern city drew a steady stream of onlookers throughout the weekend, as people filmed moving vans and consulate personnel pass in and out of the compound gates. The two consulates are the most tangible casualties yet of one of the worst disputes between the U.S. and China since the two sides formally established relations in 1979.

The Trump administration’s decision to shutter the Houston mission followed years of frustration about what it said were criminal and covert activity directed by Beijing to steal trade secrets and carry out malign influence operations across the U.S. While two Chinese citizens were convicted in the past year for trying to steal trade secrets in America’s energy capital, U.S. administration officials told reporters Friday that activity conducted through the Houston consulate represented the “tip of the iceberg.”

On Saturday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it lodged “solemn representations” with the U.S. over the forced entry into the Houston consulate.

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