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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: 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: 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: 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.

Newsline: U.S. diplomats head to China despite row over Houston consulate

A flight bound for Shanghai carrying U.S. diplomats has left the United States as Washington presses ahead with its plan to restaff its mission in China a day after an American order to close the Chinese consulate in Houston sharply escalated tensions. A person familiar with the matter told Reuters the flight, carrying an unspecified number of U.S. diplomats, left Washington on Wednesday evening. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An internal State Department email dated July 17, seen by Reuters, said the department was working to arrange a charter flight to Shanghai from Washington’s Dulles International Airport departing on Thursday. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-consulate-americans-shangha/u-s-diplomats-head-to-china-despite-row-over-houston-consulate-idUSKCN24O2OW) The source said this flight had departed earlier than initially planned.

Newsline: China says it will be forced to respond to Houston consulate closure

China warned on Thursday it will be forced to respond after the United States ordered the shutdown of its Houston consulate, a move the Chinese Foreign Ministry said had “severely harmed” relations. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, speaking at a daily media briefing, described the U.S. allegations as “malicious slander”. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-consulate/china-says-it-will-be-forced-to-respond-to-houston-consulate-closure-idUSKCN24O02D) “In response to the U.S.’s unreasonable actions, China must make a necessary response and safeguard its legitimate rights,” he said, declining to specify any measures. “This is tearing down the friendly bridge between the people of China and the U.S.,” he added. Washington gave China 72 hours to close the consulate “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information”, marking a dramatic escalation of tension between the world’s two biggest economies. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the Houston consulate on Twitter as the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States”.

Newsline: Trump says closing more Chinese consulates in U.S. ‘always possible’

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday it was “always possible” he would order the closure of more Chinese consulates in the United States in the wake of the State Department’s order to close Beijing’s consulate in Houston. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-consulate-trump/trump-says-closing-more-chinese-consulates-in-us-always-possible-idUSKCN24N3120 Trump, at a White House news conference, noted that a fire was spotted on the Houston consulate’s grounds after the State Department ordered the closure in 72 hours. “I guess they were burning documents and burning papers,” he said.