US leaves Chengdu consulate as tensions with China escalate

The shuttering is a retaliatory measure after Donald Trump ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston last week

China said it had taken over the premises of the US consulate in the south-west city of Chengdu on Monday after ordering the closure of the facility in retaliation for being expelled from the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.

Police in Chengdu restricted access to the area around the consulate on Monday morning, and four officials in personal protective gear were seen walking towards the consulate at about 10:30am local time.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the consulate was closed as of 10am. It said later that authorities entered the building and took over the premises.

The United States confirmed the closure of the consulate in a farewell video shared from the US embassy in China's Twitter account.

"The US consulate in Chengdu has been proudly promoting the mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Tibet since 1985. We will forever miss you," it said.

Moving lorries and vehicles with diplomatic plates could be seen around the consulate on Sunday as staff hurried to move out. This gallery depicts how the evacuation unfolded.

People stopped to take selfies and photos, jamming the pavement that was also busy with shoppers and families on a sunny day in Chengdu city.

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, and Houston in Texas are in the limelight of international politics as China and the US exchange orders to close consulates in the two cities.

Uniformed and plainclothes officers kept watch on both sides of the barriers after scattered incidents on Friday.

They included a man setting off firecrackers and hecklers cursing foreign media shooting video and photos of the scene, the Associated Press reported.

A man who tried to unfurl a banner or sign on Sunday evening was quickly taken away.

Earlier, a bus left the consulate grounds and people who appeared to be embassy staff spoke with plainclothes police before retreating behind the property’s solid black gates. It was not clear who was on the bus.

The US has four other consulates in mainland China, in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Shenyang, as well as the embassy in Beijing.

The Trump administration ordered China's consulate in Houston, Texas to close within 72 hours last week.

It claimed Chinese agents had tried to steal data from centres including the Texas A&M medical system. China dismissed the accusation as "malicious slander".

The closures are among the biggest threats in years to the increasingly fraught relationship between the US and China.

Relations have worsened in recent months because of various factors, including trade and the early handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tensions have soared between the world's two biggest economic powers on a range of fronts including trade, China's handling of coronavirus and a tough new security law imposed on Hong Kong, with US officials warning of a "new tyranny" from China.

The last Chinese diplomats left the Houston consulate on Friday.

Beijing said on Saturday that US agents "forcibly" entered the Houston consulate, which it said was "China's national property".

Its statement warned that "China will make a proper and necessary response in this regard".

The nationalistic tabloid Global Times warned in an editorial Monday that if Washington was "determined to push China-US ties in the worst direction... the 21st century will be darker and even more explosive than the Cold War era".

It said the rising tensions could lead to "unprecedented catastrophe".