From the political rhetoric to consulate closure: four intense days in China-US relations
Bilateral relations have deteriorated further in recent weeks, after Washington took a tougher stance and pressures its allies to act the same
From July 21 to 24, the governments of China and the United States intensified the unpredictable “lukewarm” war in which they have been involved since Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House in 2017. From Washington, unilateral sanctions, tariffs abound to imports, accusations of espionage, theft of information and supposed threats to the security of the North American country. But, now the conflict has moved to the diplomatic sphere.
Tensions between the two countries escalated sharply this Wednesday (July 22), after the unilateral closure by the Trump administration of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas. This time the excuse was to “protect American intellectual property and private information”.
Washington maintains that the Texas consulate, which covers several southern states, is an “espionage center”. “President Trump has said enough. We are not going to let this continue to happen”, said — from Denmark — the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
According to the official, the move reflects the US decision to be less tolerant of the behavior of the Chinese government. “We are setting clear expectations about how the Chinese Communist Party will behave, and when they do not, we will take steps that protect the American people, our national security and also our economy and employment”.
That same day, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus noted: “The United States will not tolerate violations of our sovereignty and the intimidation of our people by the People’s Republic of China, just as we haven’t tolerated their unfair business practices, the stealing American jobs and other atrocious behavior”.
The attack was continued by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, head of the Intelligence Committee. “It is a kind of central node of a massive espionage operation: commercial espionage, defense espionage (…) In many cases they use businessmen to try to influence members of Congress and other political leaders at the state and local level”.
The day before — on Tuesday (July 21) — the US government accused two Chinese citizens of trying to steal an alleged investigation to create a vaccine against the COVID-19 disease. Something quite improbable, since the development of this vaccine is much more advanced in the Asian nation than in the United States.
In this regard, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Christopher Wray, said that China is the “greatest long-term threat to the information and intellectual property of our nation and to our economic vitality”. That accusation was the ‘appetizer’ for what was to come.
How China responded
On Wednesday (July 22), Beijing described the closure of its Consulate as an “unprecedented” and “scandalous” escalation, and threatened retaliation. “China strongly condemns a movement so scandalous and unjustified that it will sabotage the relationship between China and the United States”, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
He also denounced that the measure “seriously violates international law and the basic norms that govern international relations, seriously violates the bilateral consular agreement between China and the United States and deliberately undermines Sino-US relations”.
“We urge the United States to immediately retract its erroneous decision, because otherwise China will take reciprocal, legitimate and necessary actions”, Wenbin said, in a kind of warning or threat.
The spokesman also accused US authorities of attacking its diplomats, including opening their “suitcases” (briefcases, backpacks) without permission “multiple times” and confiscating items for official use.
Regarding the allegations of alleged “infiltration and interference activities” by Chinese diplomats, Beijing denied those allegations and replied simply and ironically: “If we compare the two countries, it is too evident which one is involved in interference, infiltration and confrontation”, in clear reference to the North American country.
On Thursday (July 23), the Chinese diplomatic mission in Washington denounced that “due to deliberate and reckless stigmatization and incitement to hatred on the part of the United States, the Chinese embassy has received threats to the security of Chinese diplomatic missions and personnel on more than one occasion”.
Broken and strained relationships
The bilateral relations between the two nations have deteriorated further in recent weeks, after Washington took a more radical position against China and pressures its allies to act in the same manner.
Prior to the closure of the Consulate, the US authorities have deliberately impeded the work of the Chinese diplomatic and consular personnel; In addition to intimidating and questioning young Chinese people who study in the North American country, confiscating their personal electronic devices and even detaining them without justification.
In this sense, Beijing assures that “the Chinese diplomatic missions have always maintained the commitment to promote mutual understanding and friendship between both peoples”. Likewise, it reiterates that they have always adhered themselves to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
On Wednesday (July 22), Chinese state media suggested the possibility of closing American consulates, posting a poll on Twitter and asking users to choose between missions in Hong Kong, Chengdu, Guangzhou or others.
Amid the rhetoric, President Donald Trump declared at a press conference, offered on Thursday (July 23) at the White House, that it will be “always possible” to order the closure of more Chinese consulates.
Then, and with no evidence to show, he said that a fire was observed at the Chinese consulate in Houston after the State Department granted a period of 72 hours for its closure. “I guess they were burning documents and papers”, Trump said.
The person primarily responsible for the growing tension that dominates these bilateral relations is Trump and his impulsiveness and superiority complex. He is a promoter and defender of the commercial and technological war, the disputes over the management of the pandemic and the media controversy over the new Chinese security law imposed in Hong Kong.
And so came the reciprocal action
On Friday (July 24), Beijing ordered the United States to immediately close its consulate in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan province, in the southwest of the Asian country. The Xinhua state agency reported that the Xi Jinping government decided to “withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the American country’s consulate general in Chengdu”.
“The measure taken by China is a legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act of the United States. The decision is in accordance with international law, the basic rules of international relations and customary diplomatic practices”, reads part of the official statement.
In the midst of the conflict, the Chinese government again urged Washington “to immediately retract its wrong decision and create the necessary conditions to get the bilateral relationship back on track”.
Trump and his “law of the wild west”
On Friday (July 24), National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot stated: “We urge the PCC (Chinese Communist Party) to stop these malicious actions, rather than initiate eye-by-eye retaliation”. However, the actions of the Trump administration ignores its own statements.
Just an hour after the measure taken by Beijing, numerous users reported on social media that a group of men, allegedly US officials, forced the back door of the Chinese consulate in Houston. The Reuters agency reported that diplomatic personnel had barely left the headquarters, following Washington’s order.
According to the Houston Chronicle, suspected federal officials accessed the facility using power tools to open the back door after three failed attempts at other accesses. Also, they refused to answer who they were, when they were approached by journalists present at the scene. In the end, they withdrew, but not before closing the doors of the consulate with a padlock.
That same Friday (July 24), Reuters also reported that a senior Justice Department official confirmed that the Asian student who took refuge in the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco is in US custody, and will be presented in court this Friday.
The researcher, Juan Tang, along with three other Chinese citizens arrested this week, is accused of “visa fraud” for allegedly lying about her membership in the military forces of the People’s Republic of China, alleging, upon entering the country that she would do research at the University of California.
Additionally, the FBI investigates other visa holders, in at least 25 cities, suspected of having connections with the Chinese Army. Each accused of visa fraud faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $ 250,000.
Spokesman Wang Wenbin also condemned on Wednesday the continued false claims by some American politicians that the new coronavirus originated at the Wuhan National Institute of Virology National Biosecurity Laboratory.
“The laboratory has high-level biosecurity facilities and a strict management system. All investigators must undergo systematic theoretical and operational training and obtain qualification and approval before entering the laboratory”, said Wang.
The diplomat regrets that “a few politicians in the United States spread rumors and even claimed to have ‘a great deal of evidence’ to support their so-called ‘truth’, which shows that they have no morals whatsoever”, said a note from Xinhua.
“Speaking of truth, we hope that the US government will tell the truth on issues like the Fort Detrick Biological Laboratory and offer an explanation to the American people and the international community”, he said.
Lastly, he stressed that Beijing has always shared information with the international community in an open, transparent and responsible manner, in turn promoting global cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 and offering assistance and support to other countries.
One of those countries is Russia, a military power comparable to the United States. The Vladimir Putin government has reiterated on countless occasions its unrestricted support for Beijing and its rejection of the anti-Chinese campaign promoted by Washington on the basis of fear.
In this regard, this Friday (July 24), María Zajarova, spokesperson for its Foreign Ministry, stated: “The words of Mike Pompeo, about the possibility of dragging Moscow into the US campaign against China, is another naive attempt to complicate the Russian-Chinese association (…) This position only reinforces our intention to further strengthen ties with China, a country that we consider a crucial factor for the stabilization of the world”.
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