Staff stationed at the US consulate in Chengdu engaged in their final efforts to exit the premises on Sunday amid high security, with the Monday deadline for the closure ordered by China was closing in.

On Friday, Beijing called for the immediate closure of the consulate located in the country's southwestern province of Sichuan in retaliation to the US-ordered shutdown of China's consulate situated in Houston, Texas. According to the state-run tabloid, the deadline for evacuation was 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Monday.

Deteriorating Ties Between US and China

US China flag
US China flags Reuters

A mini tourist atmosphere prevailed outside the facility on a tree-lined street on a hot Sunday, as onlookers shared sidewalk space with dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police opposite the entrance.

Consulate closures in Houston and Chengdu have escalated a sharp deterioration in ties between the world's two biggest economies, which were already their worst in decades amid disputes over trade and technology, the COVID-19 pandemic, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.

Police asked people to move on when crowds formed outside the consulate, as onlookers took photos and videos of what they expected would be the last time to see the compound in U.S. hands. The street was closed to traffic, except for consular or police vehicles let through by police.

Reciprocal Response

In Houston, on Friday, a group of men accompanied by a US State Department official were seen forcing open a door at the Chinese consulate, shortly after the US closure order took effect for a facility that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called "a hub of spying and intellectual property theft".

A coach that had been on the Chengdu consulate premises on Saturday left on Sunday morning. It was unclear who or what was inside. Since Friday, the staff has been seen coming and going, including at least one with a suitcase. Removal vans entered and left on Saturday and Sunday. "China's response was reciprocal," said a 63-year-old local resident who gave only his surname, Yang. The situation "is quite regrettable."

On the Chengdu police account on Weibo, similar to Twitter, some netizens were asking the authorities to be lenient toward a man who lit a firework outside the consulate Friday. "I believe our country is so powerful, so it has the ability to handle it properly, and provide me with enough safety," said a 25-year-old finance worker surnamed Zhao when she passed by the consulate.

(With inputs from agencies)