Updated at 4:50 a.m. ET
China will shut down the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu in retaliation for the U.S. shutting down China’s Houston consulate this week as relations between the two countries reach their lowest point in more than 30 years.
“Some of the employees of the American consulate in Chengdu engaged in activities not in accordance with their identities, interfered in China’s internal affairs and hurt China’s national security interests,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Friday. He did not specify what those activities were when asked.
China’s foreign ministry said it had informed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing early Friday afternoon of the closure. The country’s state broadcaster said the U.S. consulate would have 72 hours to close, the same period of time the U.S. gave China to close its Houston consulate.
“This is a legitimate & necessary response to the unilateral provocative move by the US to demand the closure of China’s Consulate General in Houston,” a foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, wrote on Twitter shortly after the announcement.
Chengdu is one of six U.S. foreign missions, including the embassy in Beijing, in mainland China. The U.S. also has a major consulate in Hong Kong.
In February 2012, the U.S.’ Chengdu consulate briefly sheltered the city’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, igniting a series of events that eventually led to the dramatic ouster and imprisonment of a high-ranking Communist Party official, Bo Xilai.
Houston was the first Chinese consulate to open in the U.S. following normalization of relations between Washington and Beijing in 1979.
The U.S. government has not provided a detailed explanation for why it decided to close China’s Houston consulate earlier this week, but has strongly hinted its closure pertains to specific cases of industrial espionage which Chinese consular staff allegedly supported.
In a major speech on U.S.-China relations Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. ordered the Houston consulate closed because it was “a hub of spying and IP theft.”
The State Department said in a statement announcing the closure Wednesday the action was to “protect American intellectual property and American’s (sic) private information.” The department’s top official for East Asia and the Pacific, Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, told reporters the Houston consulate was active in supporting informants who collected information and research to help the Chinese military.
Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, called Stilwell’s allegations “talking nonsense” at a press briefing Thursday.
“The responsibility rests entirely with the United States,” China’s foreign ministry said in statement Friday explaining its decision to shut down the U.S. consulate. “We once again urge the U.S. to immediately revoke its erroneous decision and create the necessary conditions so bilateral relations can return back to normal.”
China’s consul general in Houston, Cai Wei, told Politico this week that the consulate would protest the U.S. closure order and remain open “until further notice.”
“China and its people are not afraid,” said Chu Shulong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. “The United States cannot change the trend of China’s development. Without the U.S., China will still become powerful. Our technology and military will still progress, it just may take longer.”
This is a developing story.