Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan province in western China, is an important post for the US since it covers consular affairs in several provinces including Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Myanmar and western sector of the India-China border.
In a diplomatic tit-for-tat response to the US order of shutting down the Chinese Consulate General in Houston, two days on, Beijing has ordered the US Consulate in Chengdu to be closed down within 72 hours. Besides ordering closure of the US Consulate, China has also responded to US allegations that Chinese officials were indulging in acts of “espionage”. China has now accused American diplomats of engaging in activities which are “inconsistent” with their “identities”.
“Some personnel from the US Consulate General in Chengdu have engaged in activities inconsistent with their identities. China has made representations and the US side is fully aware,” Wang Wenbin, Spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, said at Friday’s media briefing while commenting on the closure of the US consulate.
However, while China has decided to shut down the US Consulate in Chengdu, it has asked Washington to reconsider its decision that could lead to greater escalation.
“The current situation between China and the US is something China does not want to see, and the responsibility rests entirely with the US. China’s Consulate General in Houston is still operating. We urge the US to withdraw its erroneous decision,” said the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.
He added, “We once again urge the US to revoke its decision and create necessary conditions for the return of bilateral relations.”
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said, “I’m very confident that we’ll proceed in a way that makes clear that it’s not okay to use your diplomats to engage in industrial espionage, it’s not okay to steal intellectual property, it’s not okay to engage in those kind of behaviours. That’s the reason we did it (ordered closure of Chinese consulate). We did it to protect the American people, and we’re going to make sure that that happens.”
STRATEGY BEHIND CHENGDU
Meanwhile, closure of the US consulate in Chengdu is being looked at as a strategic decision by China, amid earlier speculations that the US Consulate in Wuhan could have been the one to be shut. There were also speculations that is Beijing wanted real escalation, then the US Consulate in Hong Kong and Macau could have been evicted.
Strategic affairs expert Professor Stobdan observed, “This is further escalation after Taiwan and Hong Kong.”
By choosing Chengdu, Beijing would be dismantling a strategic infrastructure of Washington DC in the Chinese mainland.
Speaking to India Today TV, Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, said, “The tit-for-tat reaction where China has asked the US to close its Consulate in Chengdu is a fairly normal reaction. I am sure the US had considered this possibility when it made its decision on Houston.”
WHY IS CHENGDU SO IMPORTANT?
Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan province situated in western China, is an important post since it covers consular affairs in several provinces and regions including Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Myanmar and western sector of the India-China border.
It was opened in October 1985 by former US President George Bush and has ever since been an important part of the intelligence warfare.
Traditionally, most of Sichuan is a part of undivided Tibet, and has the restive Kham area which is the western part of Tibet (outside TAR). All activities and resistance against China, including self-immolations take place there. Although Lhasa is quite far away, this is the critical and rebellious part of Tibet.
It is significant since in the past, the western sector of the India-China border was controlled by the Chengdu military district.
Former Indian intelligence official, Jayadev Ranade, says that this would hamper access for Washington.
“The shutting down of the US Consulate in Chengdu by China is well thought and severely minimises US access to Tibet. It will also curb US efforts to assess China’s annual agriculture production,” he said.
If this consulate shuts down then the source of information will dry up for the US to a great extent.
The consulate was also the scene of a major political incident in 2012 when Wang Lijun, former vice-mayor and police chief of Southwest China’s Chongqing, tried to defect after being demoted by Chinese administration for revealing to the United States consulate details of British businessman Neil Heywood’s murder and subsequent cover-up. But, after 30 hours of remaining in the consulate, he finally left the building out of his own volition.