China, on Friday, ordered the closure of the US consulate situated in the southwestern city of Chengdu in response to the US' demand to close its consulate in Huston, as relations between the two superpowers continue to deteriorate.

Earlier this week, China had warned the US that it would retaliate after it was given 72 hours—until Friday— to shut its consulate in Houston, and had appealed to the US to reconsider its decision.

China's foreign ministry said in a statement, "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China informed the US Embassy in China of its decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the US Consulate General in Chengdu."

Accusing Consulate Personnel of Interfering In China's Affairs

Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated sharply this year over issues ranging from trade and technology to the novel coronavirus, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong. The US Department of State and the US embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

US China flag
US China flags Reuters

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said some Chengdu consulate personnel were "conducting activities not in line with their identities" and had interfered in China's affairs and harmed China's security interests, but he did not say how. Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, who is also foreign minister, blamed Washington for the deterioration in ties.

"The current difficult situation in Sino-US relations is entirely caused by the United States, and its goal is trying to interrupt China's development," Wang said in a video conversation with his German counterpart. China still hoped to achieve mutual respect, and win-win cooperation with the United States, he said. he consulate was given 72 hours to close, or until 10 a.m. on Monday, the editor of the Global Times newspaper said on Twitter.

Share Markets Fall After Announcement

The consulate opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was not immediately clear how many are there now after a significant number of US diplomats were evacuated from China during the early stages of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Global share markets fell after the announcement, led by a heavy drop in Chinese blue chips, which fell 4.4 percent, while the yuan hit a two-week low. The US State Department warned American citizens in China of a greater risk of arbitrary law enforcement including detention and a ban on leaving, repeating a similar warning two weeks ago.

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Representational Image Pixabay

Increasingly Troubled Ties

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech on Thursday the United States and its allies must use "more creative and assertive ways" to press the Chinese Communist Party to change its ways, calling it the "mission of our time". A source had told Reuters that China was considering shutting the US consulate in Wuhan, from where Washington withdrew staff as the coronavirus outbreak raged.

"The Chengdu consulate is more important than the Wuhan consulate because that is where the US gathers information about Tibet and China's development of strategic weapons in neighboring regions," said Wu Xinbo, a professor and American studies expert at Fudan University in Shanghai.

He said the Chengdu consulate was less important for trade and economic activity than US consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Chinese social media users, who had denounced the US order to close the Houston mission, lauded the response. The comment, "let's renovate it into a hotpot restaurant!", a reference to a popular dish in Chengdu, got 100,000 likes on the Weibo account of state broadcaster CCTV.

(With inputs from agencies)