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Newsline: US Embassy auction in Beijing raises speculation of ‘scaling down

As China-US relations spiraled toward the lowest point since diplomatic relations were established in 1979, an auction held by the US Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday attracted a curious crowd. Coming on the heels of the shutdown of the US consulate in Chengdu on July 27, a forced decision in response to the unexpected order to close China’s consulate in Houston, the auction also raised speculation that the embassy was “scaling down.” Some people suspected that items from the consulate in Chengdu would appear at the auction. Global Times reporters went to the auction on Tuesday morning and found hundreds of people. The auction featured used items including office supplies (desks, chairs), household furniture (beds, carpets), domestic appliances (dryers, washing machines), electronic devices and accessories (computers, printers, CPUs). Most of those who went were retirees looking for a bargain, married couples looking for furniture, and some second-hand dealers looking for business opportunities. The embassy said in a statement on its website that the auction is open to all residents aside from management/GSO property/procurement/motor pool and facility staff and their family members. It also noted that the quality and condition of the items were not guaranteed. A Beijing resident at the auction told the Global Times that he attended the auction to check whether it was a sign of scaling-down or even closure of the US Embassy. Others reached by the Global Times said they wondered “if the rumors were true.” However, a statement sent by the embassy press officer to the Global Times said the auction is “a normal part of disposing of used items from the embassy,” which was confirmed by an embassy staff on the scene. “It has nothing to do with diplomatic scaling-down,” the statement said. “Expect more auctions in the near future.” (https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1196700.shtml) This is not the first time the US Embassy and its consulates held auctions in China. The embassy usually held two auctions every year in Beijing before the epidemic. However, this year’s auction attracted much more attention from the Chinese public amid the escalation of diplomatic tensions. An embassy member of staff at the auction said he has never seen so many attendees before.

Newsline: South Korea, New Zealand spar over diplomat in sex harassment case

South Korea and New Zealand are at odds over the case of a South Korean diplomat who has been accused of groping a New Zealand staff member at Seoul’s Embassy in Wellington. The New Zealand government has called on South Korea to waive the man’s diplomatic immunity, but Seoul has agreed to cooperate on the grounds his immunity not be waived, South Korean news service News 1 reported. South Korea’s foreign ministry told reporters on Monday the two countries have been in communication over the case. Seoul will work with the New Zealand government if it requests investigation under the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and extradition. (https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/08/03/South-Korea-New-Zealand-spar-over-diplomat-in-sex-harassment-case/6671596458162/) New Zealand has urged Seoul to do more, however. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has “expressed her disappointment that the Korean Government was unable to waive immunity to allow aspects of the police investigation into this matter to proceed,” the prime minister’s office said, according to the New Zealand Herald on Sunday. Ardern recently conveyed her opinions in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in. The diplomat, a former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, has been charged with three counts of sexual misconduct that took place in 2017. The plaintiff in the case, a male employee at the embassy, is currently receiving support from MOSAIC, an advocacy group for male sex abuse survivors, according to the report.

Newsline: US, China consulate closures deal losses to both nations

In shutting each other’s consulates, the United States and China have done more than strike symbolic blows in their escalating feud. They’ve also dimmed each other’s ability to observe — and to spy on — critical regions of their countries. For the United States, the loss of the Chengdu mission in southwestern China will, among other things, cloud its view of Tibet, a region where Buddhist residents say Beijing is eroding its culture and its traditional independent streak. China says Tibet has been its territory for centuries. For China, the loss of its mission in Houston dims its view of America’s South and, according to U.S. officials, removes the nerve center of a Chinese spying network. While the impact of the consulate closures has yet to be fully felt by either side, it will be. “We’ll be flying blind if not with very dark glasses and so will they,” said Beatrice Camp, a retired career diplomat who served as consul general at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai from 2008 to 2011. (https://www.witn.com/2020/07/31/us-china-consulate-closures-deal-losses-to-both-nations/) The closures of the consulates up the ante in the diplomatic confrontation, with the Trump administration turning up the heat on China in the midst of an already heated rivalry that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and ahead of the November U.S. presidential election — and Beijing responding in kind. In Houston, U.S. officials said they removed the epicenter of a Chinese spying network that spanned more than 25 cities, collecting intelligence, trying to steal intellectual property and harassing the expatriate families of dissidents and others while trying to coerce them to return to China. Led by a consul general who had previously served in Australia, where China has been especially active in going after expatriates, the Houston consulate was “particularly aggressive and particularly successful,” one U.S. official said. U.S. officials do not deny collecting intelligence from the consulate in Chengdu but insist that it functioned the same as any diplomatic mission run by the United States or other nations.

Newsline: South Korea plans to handle diplomat’s sexual harassment in New Zealand

President Moon Jae-in told the leader of New Zealand that his government will handle a sexual harassment allegation involving a senior South Korean diplomat, once based in Wellington, after finding relevant facts, a Cheong Wa Dae official said. Moon had phone talks with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern the previous day. She raised the issue at the end of the 30-minute conversation, the official told reporters. The 2017 case has drawn public attention again since a recent news report in New Zealand. While serving as a counselor at the South Korean Embassy in Wellington at that time, the diplomat was accused of behaving indecently against a local male staffer. The diplomat, whose name remains withheld formally, left the capital city in 2018 and is now serving as consul general in another foreign country. There has reportedly since been little progress in a probe by New Zealand’s police despite a court-issued arrest warrant. Responding to Ardern’s remarks, Moon said, “Related (South Korean) authorities will handle (the matter) after confirming facts,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said on the condition of anonymity. (http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200729000928) According to sources familiar with the matter, the foreign ministry had probed the diplomat and had cut his salary for a month as a disciplinary measure before reassigning him to the current post.

Newsline: Farewell message from US Embassy draws backlash on Chinese social media

A farewell message sent out by the US Embassy in China to its Consulate General in Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, on social networks on Monday was followed by swarms of comments with mixed emotions from Chinese netizens. While some cheered the official closure of the US consulate and praised the tit-for-tat from the Chinese government, others said they hope the moves could at least make the Trump administration learn something from challenging China’s bottom line. A post published by the US Embassy in China on China’s Twitter-like Weibo released some messages that try to please the Chinese people. It said that “Today, we say goodbye to the US Consulate General in Chengdu. We’ll miss you forever,” along with a short video showing the history of the consulate in Chengdu, and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries in the past. (https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1195779.shtml) The post was published nearly one hour after the consulate was officially shut down. It was a forced decision that China had to make in response to US unexpectedly ordering China’s Consulate General in Houston to close down. The abrupt US move further flared up tensions between the world’s two largest economies. And the post was heavily mocked online as Chinese netizens found the message hypocritical. But some netizens also expressed sadness over worsening bilateral ties. The post and video that try to win the sympathy from the Chinese people receive the opposite effects and the huge amount of anger over US hegemonic move against China at present. Many web users said if US employees of the consulate want to blame anyone for their leaving, they should blame the White House’s decision to close China’s consulate in Houston, without which , the US consulate in Chengdu would remain open today.

Newsline: China seizes U.S. consulate in Chengdu

China took over the premises of the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on Monday, after ordering the facility to be vacated in retaliation for China’s ouster last week from its consulate in Houston, Texas. The seizure capped a dramatic escalation in tensions between the world’s two biggest economies that began when employees at China’s Houston consulate were seen burning documents in a courtyard last Tuesday, hours before Beijing announced that it had been ordered to leave the facility. The U.S. consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, was closed as of 10 a.m (0200) on Monday, and Chinese authorities had entered the building from the front door, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-consulate/china-seizes-u-s-consulate-in-chengdu-retaliating-for-houston-idUSKCN24S044) On Friday, Beijing announced that it had asked the United States to close its Chengdu post, and gave the Americans 72 hours to vacate, the same amount of time China was given to leave its Houston mission, which was shut on Friday.

Newsline: Former Kyrgyz Diplomat Implicated In Customs-Fraud Case Freed From Custody

A former Kyrgyz diplomat mentioned in investigations into the high-profile killing in Istanbul of a Chinese citizen of Uyghur origin, whose statements to reporters led to a corruption scandal that shook the country in November, has been fined and released from custody. A spokeswoman for Bishkek’s Birinchi Mai district court, Aizada Momunova, told RFE/RL that the former consul-general in Istanbul, Erkin Sopokov, was ordered to pay 300,000 soms ($3,920) but given no jail time. (https://www.rferl.org/a/former-kyrgyz-diplomat-implicated-in-customs-fraud-case-freed-from-custody/30745565.html) There was no official announcement about Sopokov’s verdict and sentence at the time. The court’s website said on July 24 that Sopokov made a deal with investigators and pleaded guilty to abuse of office and illegal enrichment. No more details were provided. Sopokov was fired from his post in Istanbul and arrested following the assassination of Aierken Saimaiti, a Chinese national of Uyghur ethnicity, who was shot dead at an Istanbul cafe in November. Investigators revealed that Saimaiti used a vehicle with diplomatic license plates that belonged to Sopokov. Sopokov was accused of illegally lending his Range Rover to Saimaiti and other individuals, illegally earning $200,000 and misusing government-provided benefits.

Newsline: Chinese fugitive taken into custody as US claims Houston consulate was a part of espionage network

Senior US government officials said that a Chinese scientist who had been hiding in the country’s San Francisco consulate after accusations of visa fraud is now in US custody and also charged that Beijing has been using its diplomatic outposts to run an espionage network to steal intellectual property from US businesses, universities and research centers. Tang Juan, a researcher who said she was focusing on biology, “was a fugitive from justice until last night,” a senior Justice Department official said, but has now been charged in Sacramento. The circumstances of Tang’s arrest were not clear, but she has not been charged with espionage. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/24/politics/us-china-consulate-accuse-espionage-network/index.html) US officials made the announcement just hours before Washington’s deadline for Beijing to shutter its consulate in Houston, a move that triggered China to retaliate by demanding the US close its consulate in Chengdu. The US officials also said Friday that China’s Houston consulate was implicated in a fraud investigation at a Texas research institution. They charged that consulate officials “were directly involved in communications with researchers and guided them on what information to collect.” The activities in Houston “are a microcosm, we believe, of a broader network of individuals in more than 25 cities. That network is supported through the consulates here,” the Justice Department official said. The idea to close the Houston consulate emerged this spring after China interfered when US officials returned to the consulate in Wuhan, closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, to retrieve diplomatic materials, a senior State Department official told CNN. Chinese authorities refused to let the US officials leave Wuhan with the pouches, saying they had to search them before leaving, an aggressive move that violates the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic relations.

Newsline: Beijing Slams Forced U.S. Entry to China’s Houston Consulate

China on Saturday protested against the “forced entry” into the Chinese consulate in Houston by US law enforcement agents after the diplomats were forced to leave over spying claims. Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement that the US had no right to break into the facility and warned that Beijing will make the “necessary response”. “The Chinese consulate general in Houston is a diplomatic and consular premise, as well as China’s national property. The US should not violate the premise by any means according to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-US consular treaty,” he said. Wang said China is “strongly dissatisfied” and “resolutely opposes” the US move, adding that Beijing has lodged stern representations with the United States. (https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3094696/chinese-consulate-houston-shuts-doors-after-us-deadline-passes) Earlier on Friday, the Houston Chronicle reported that after the eviction deadline passed, a man believed to be a State Department official entered the consulate, along with others, after a small back door was pried open. The report said officials had earlier tried three separate entrances, but were not able to gain entry. Security teams, wearing shirts emblazoned with the words US Department of State, stood watch at the back entrance. The fire department also entered and exited the consulate.

Newsline: China orders U.S. to shut Chengdu consulate, retaliating for Houston

China ordered the United States to close its consulate in the city of Chengdu on Friday, responding to a U.S. demand this week that China close its Houston consulate, as relations between the world’s two largest economies deteriorate. The order to close the consulate in Chengdu, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, was seen as roughly reciprocal in terms of scale and impact, continuing China’s recent practice of like-for-like responses to U.S. actions. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-consulate/china-orders-u-s-to-shut-chengdu-consulate-retaliating-for-houston-idUSKCN24P09U) China had warned it would retaliate after it was unexpectedly given 72 hours – until Friday – to vacate its Houston consulate, and had urged the United States to reconsider. “The U.S. move seriously breached international law, the basic norms of international relations, and the terms of the China-U.S. Consular Convention. It gravely harmed China-U.S. relations,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.