Warning that China is still influencing our Universities

Revelations 6:3-4 “when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

Important Takeaways:

  • China’s return to college campuses: Communist-backed Confucius Institutes renew bid to shape American minds
  • Colleges and universities across America shut the doors to their Confucius Institutes over the past several years…but some are now reopening their doors under a different name while continuing to accept money from the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Their self-described goal is to offer instruction to students on Chinese language and culture as tensions between the Chinese government and the United States reach a level not seen in decades, and as intelligence officials warn the instruction on language and culture is merely a guise under which the communist party seeks to propagandize within the walls of America’s classrooms.
  • In 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that Confucius Institutes are a “source of concern” and are part of China’s “soft power strategy.”
  • The National Association of Scholars states that the 118 Confucius Institutes that once operated in the U.S. has since shrunk to just 18
  • In total, at least 28 universities replaced their Confucius Institute programs with something similar, according to the NAS report
  • The “rebranding” of Confucius Institutes comes amid warnings by Wray as well as Ken McCallum, director-general of the United Kingdom’s MI5 intelligence service…warning for American companies: The Chinese government wants to steal your technology.

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China uses Olympics to share future of undisputed power

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Important Takeaways:

  • As Olympics begin, Beijing projects ‘shared future’ of undisputed Chinese power
  • China’s motto of coming “together for a shared future” during the hardships of pandemic — an echo of President Xi Jinping’s political philosophy of building a “community with a shared future for mankind”
  • [Narrative] has been countered by U.S.-led diplomatic boycotts that seek to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for human rights abuses, military aggression and ascendant nationalism during Xi’s rule
  • Coronavirus-constraining “closed loop” of designated buses and hotels has made it impossible for most Beijing residents to take part in the events.
  • China itself has used the Olympics to promote its political vision; underscore its claims of ownership over Taiwan
  • Xinhua News Agency wrote, “Ensuring the Beijing Winter Olympics were held on schedule demonstrates the significant advantages of Socialism with Chinese characteristics and is a bold declaration that no force can stop the Chinese people from realizing their dreams.”

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Hong Kong legislators pass ‘patriotic’ oath law

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A new law that tightens patriotic loyalty tests for Hong Kong politicians will take effect later this month after being passed by the city’s legislature on Wednesday, local media reported.

The law is widely expected to further stifle democratic opposition in the global financial hub, extending oath-taking requirements to community level district councils that are dominated by pro-democracy politicians following a landslide win in November 2019.

Publicly-funded broadcaster RTHK reported that more than 20 district councilors have resigned in recent months, some because they were not willing to take the oath and others after being detained under a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by China’s parliament last June.

The new law allows the city’s Secretary for Justice to launch action against a politician or official who is deemed to have violated an oath under a “negative list” that proscribes a broad range of unpatriotic acts, from insulting the flag to endangering national security.

Those accused would be immediately suspended from office and, upon a court conviction, ousted and then barred from standing for an election for five years.

Lawyers, academics and diplomats have told Reuters they fear the city’s independent judges could also find themselves ensnared by the vague terms of the law.

The Hong Kong government launched the bill in February, a day after a senior official in China’s cabinet said provisions should be made to ensure only “patriots” ran the city.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang said at the time that officials and politicians “cannot say that you are patriotic but you do not love the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party or you do not respect it – this does not make sense.”

“Patriotism is holistic love,” he added.

(Reporting By Greg Torode and Clare Jim in Hong Kong; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Trump bans U.S. investments in companies linked to Chinese military

By Humeyra Pamuk, Alexandra Alper and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled an executive order prohibiting U.S. investments in Chinese companies that Washington says are owned or controlled by the Chinese military, ramping up pressure on Beijing after the U.S. election.

The order, which was first reported by Reuters, could impact some of China’s biggest companies, including China Telecom Corp Ltd, China Mobile Ltd and surveillance equipment maker Hikvision.

The move is designed to deter U.S. investment firms, pension funds and others from buying shares of 31 Chinese companies that were designated by the Defense Department as backed by the Chinese military earlier this year.

Starting Jan. 11, the order will prohibit purchases by U.S. investors of the securities of those companies. Transactions made to divest ownership in the companies will be permitted until Nov. 11, 2021.

“China is increasingly exploiting United States capital to resource and to enable the development and modernization of its military, intelligence, and other security apparatuses,” said the order released by the White House.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a stock exchange filing, China Telecom said it estimated the executive order might impact the price of its shares, which closed down 7.8% in Hong Kong on Friday, and American depository shares, adding that it would “closely monitor” developments.

Another telecom operator, China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd, said companies affected by the order would include its parent, China United Network Communications Group Co Ltd.

China Unicom also said in its filing, it expected an impact on its shares, which fell 6.7% on Friday, and American depository shares, adding it was “considering appropriate steps to protect its and its investors’ lawful rights”.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro estimated that at least half a trillion dollars in market capitalization was represented by the Chinese companies and their subsidiaries.

“This is a sweeping order designed to choke off American capital to China’s militarization,” he told reporters on a call.

The move is the first major policy initiative by President Donald Trump since losing the Nov. 3 election to Democratic rival Joe Biden and indicates that he is seeking to take advantage of the waning months of his administration to crack down on China, even as he has appeared laser-focused on challenging the election result.

Biden has won enough battleground states to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the next president, but Republican Trump has so far refused to concede, citing unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud.

Thursday’s action is likely to further weigh on already fraught ties between the world’s top two economies, which are at loggerheads over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its move to impose security legislation on Hong Kong.

Biden has not laid out a detailed China strategy but all the indications are that he will continue a tough approach to Beijing, with whom Trump has become increasingly confrontational in his last year in office.

WALL STREET INTERESTS

The order echoes a bill filed by Republican senator Marco Rubio last month that sought to block access to U.S. capital markets for Chinese companies that have been blacklisted by Washington, including those added to the Defense Department list.

“Today’s action by the Trump administration is a welcome start to protecting our markets and investors,” said Rubio, a top congressional China hawk. “We can never put the interests of the Chinese Communist Party and Wall Street above American workers and mom and pop investors.”

His comments were echoed by Republican Congressman Jim Banks, who described the order as “one of the wisest and most significant foreign policy decisions President Trump has made since he entered office”.

Rubio’s bill and the order are part of a growing effort by Congress and the administration to thwart Chinese companies that have the backing of U.S. investors but do not comply with U.S. rules faced by American rivals. It also shows a new willingness to antagonize Wall Street in the rivalry with Beijing.

In August, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury officials urged Trump to delist Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges and fail to meet its auditing requirements by January 2022.

Thursday’s move received a cool reception on Wall Street, where shares were already pulling back from recent gains. The iShares China Large-Cap ETF extended falls.

“The market is probably worried that President Trump is going to increase tensions with China and Iran in his last two months as president,” said Chris Zaccarelli, Chief Investment Officer of the Independent Advisor Alliance.

Still, it was unclear how investors would react. The order bans transactions, which it defined as “purchases,” so investors would technically be able to hold onto current investments.

While the document does not spell out specific penalties for violations, it gives the Treasury Department the ability to invoke “all powers” granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which authorizes the use of tough sanctions.

Questions also remain about whether Biden, who is set to take office just nine days after the order goes into effect, would enforce it or simply revoke it. His campaign declined to comment.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Alexandra Alper and Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Alden Bentley, Meg Shen and Tom Daly; Editing by Chris Sanders, Edward Tobin, Rosalba O’Brien and Barbara Lewis)

Pope denies audience with Pompeo; Vatican warns against playing politics over China

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – The Vatican said on Wednesday it had denied a request from Mike Pompeo for an audience with Pope Francis, and accused the Secretary of State of trying to drag the Catholic Church into the U.S. presidential election by denouncing its relations with China.

The extraordinary remarks from the two top diplomatic officials at the Vatican came after Pompeo accused the Church in an article and a series of tweets this month of putting its “moral authority” at risk by renewing an agreement with China over the appointment of bishops.

Pompeo, who was in Rome on Wednesday and due to meet Vatican officials on Thursday, repeated his denunciations of China’s record on religious freedom at an event hosted by the U.S. embassy to the Holy See.

The Vatican’s two top diplomats, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said Francis had declined a request from Pompeo for an audience, as the pope avoids meeting politicians ahead of elections.

“Yes, he asked. But the pope had already said clearly that political figures are not received in election periods. That is the reason,” Parolin said.

The Vatican’s two-year-old agreement with Beijing gives the pope some say over the appointment of Chinese bishops. It was due to expire next month, but is expected to be renewed.

Officials in the Holy See say the agreement is not perfect but call it a step forward, after decades during which Chinese Catholics who recognise the pope were driven underground.

Parolin and Gallagher both described Pompeo’s public criticism as a “surprise,” coming just before his planned visit.

“Normally when you’re preparing these visits between high-level officials, you negotiate the agenda for what you are going to talk about privately, confidentially. It’s one of the rules of diplomacy,” Gallagher said.

“THAT’S JUST CRAZY”

Asked if he believed that Pompeo’s criticisms of the Vatican deal were intended for political use in the United States, Parolin said: “Some have interpreted it this way … that the comments were above all for domestic political use. I don’t have proof of this but certainly this is one way of looking at it.”

The Vatican-China deal “is a matter that has nothing to do with American politics. This is a matter between Churches and should not be used for this type of ends,” Parolin said.

For his part, when asked at a briefing if he was “picking a fight” with the Vatican over China and what impact that could have on Catholic and other Christian voters, Pompeo replied: “That’s just crazy.”

President Donald Trump has campaigned on his hard line towards China ahead of the Nov. 3 election. He is also strongly associated with conservative Protestant and Catholic movements, many of which have been critical of Pope Francis.

In his speech on Thursday, Pompeo did not directly address the Vatican agreement with Beijing, but he described China as the world’s worst abuser of religious rights.

“Nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than in China,” Pompeo said. The Chinese Communist Party was looking to “to snuff out the lamp of freedom … on a horrifying scale”.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)

U.S. to require approvals on work of Chinese diplomats in America

By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday it would now require senior Chinese diplomats to get State Department approval before visiting U.S. university campuses and holding cultural events with more than 50 people outside mission grounds.

Washington cast the move as a response to what it said was Beijing’s restrictions on American diplomats based in China. It comes as part of a Trump administration campaign against alleged Chinese influence operations and espionage activity.

The State Department said it also would take action to help ensure all Chinese embassy and consular social media accounts were “properly identified.”

“We’re simply demanding reciprocity. Access for our diplomats in China should be reflective of the access that Chinese diplomats in the United States have, and today’s steps will move us substantially in that direction'” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news briefing.

It was the latest U.S. step to restrict Chinese activity in the United States in the run-up to the November presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough approach to China a key foreign policy platform.

Pompeo also said Keith Krach, the State Department’s undersecretary for Economic Growth, had written recently to the governing boards of U.S. universities alerting them to threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

“These threats can come in the form of illicit funding for research, intellectual property theft, intimidation of foreign students and opaque talent recruitment efforts,” Pompeo said.

He said universities could ensure they had clean investments and endowment funds, “by taking a few key steps to disclose all (Chinese) companies’ investments invested in the endowment funds, especially those in emerging-market index funds.”

On Tuesday, Pompeo said he was hopeful Chinese Confucius Institute cultural centers on U.S. university campuses, which he accused of working to recruit “spies and collaborators,” would all be shut by the end of the year.

Last month, Pompeo labeled the center that manages the dozens of Confucius Institutes in the United States “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence” and required it to register as a foreign mission.

The State Department announced in June it would start treating four major Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, calling them mouthpieces for Beijing.

It took the same step against five other Chinese outlets in February, and in March said it was slashing the number of journalists allowed to work at U.S. offices of major Chinese media outlets to 100 from 160 due to Beijing’s “long-standing intimidation and harassment of journalists.”

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Economic clout makes China tougher challenge for U.S. than Soviet Union was – Pompeo

By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) – China’s global economic power makes the communist country in some ways a more difficult foe to counter than the Soviet Union during the Cold War, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on a visit to the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Pompeo called on countries around Europe to rally against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which he said leverages its economic might to exert its influence around the world.

“What’s happening now isn’t Cold War 2.0,” Pompeo said in a speech to the Czech Senate. “The challenge of resisting the CCP threat is in some ways much more difficult.”

“The CCP is already enmeshed in our economies, in our politics, in our societies in ways the Soviet Union never was.”

The Cold War reference came after China’s ambassador to London last month warned that the United States was picking a fight with Beijing ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

U.S.-China ties have quickly deteriorated this year over a range of issues including Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus; telecoms-equipment maker Huawei; China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea; and the clampdown on Hong Kong.

Pompeo’s visit to the Czech Republic, part of the Soviet bloc until the 1989 democratic Velvet Revolution, marked the first stop on a swing through the region to discuss cyber and energy security.

He used the occasion to swipe at both Russian and Chinese influence and lauded officials in the central European nation of 10.7 million who took on Beijing over the past year.

He cited the Czech Republic’s efforts to set security standards for the development of 5G telecommunications networks after a government watchdog warned about using equipment made by China’s Huawei.

Pompeo and Prime Minister Andrej Babis signed a declaration on 5G security in May, but the country has not made an outright decision to ban Huawei technology. Its President Milos Zeman has been promoting closer ties with China.

Pompeo also acknowledged the chairman of the Czech Senate Milan Vystrcil, who followed through on a plan by his deceased predecessor to visit Taiwan at the end of this month, a trip that has angered China.

Pompeo said some nations in Europe would take longer to wake up to the threats, but there was a positive momentum.

“The tide has turned (in the United States), just as I see it turned here in Europe as well. The West is winning, don’t let anyone tell you about the decline of he West,” he said.

“It will take all of us… here in Prague, in Poland, in Portugal. We have the obligation to speak clearly and plainly to our people, and without fear. We must confront complex questions… and we must do so together,” he said.

(Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Michael Kahn, William Maclean)

U.S. health chief, visiting Taiwan, attacks China’s pandemic response

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar attacked China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and said that if such an outbreak had emerged in Taiwan or the United States it could have been “snuffed out easily”.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for trying to cover up the virus outbreak, first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and prevaricating on information sharing. China angrily denies the accusations.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus. But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day,” Azar said in Taipei, capital of self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own.

As the virus emerged, China did not live up to its “binding” international obligations in a betrayal of the cooperative spirit needed for global health, he added, wearing a face mask as he has done for all his public events in Taiwan.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say that if this virus had emerged in a place like Taiwan or the United States, it might have been snuffed out easily: rapidly reported to public health authorities, who would have shared what they knew with health professionals and with the general public,” Azar said.

“Instead, Beijing appears to have resisted information sharing, muzzling doctors who spoke out and hobbling the world’s ability to respond.”

The United States has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world and President Donald Trump has come under scathing attack from critics at home for not taking what he calls the “China virus” seriously enough.

Taiwan has been praised by health experts for its early and effective steps to control the outbreak, with only 480 infections, including seven deaths.

Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned by China.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has vowed to bring it under its rule, by force if necessary.

Chinese fighter jets on Monday briefly crossed the median line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and were tracked by Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles, part of what Taipei sees as a pattern of harassment by Beijing.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing but is still Taiwan’s biggest arms supplier. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority as relations with China sour over issues including human rights, the pandemic, Hong Kong and trade.

Azar said the world should recognize Taiwan’s health accomplishments and not try to push it out, pointing to Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Organization due to Chinese objections.

“This behavior is in keeping with Beijing’s approach to WHO and other international organisations. The influence of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) far outweighs its investment in this public health institution – and it uses influence not to advance public health objectives, but its own narrow political interests.”

Both China and the WHO say Taiwan has been provided with the help it needs during the pandemic, which Taiwan disputes.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie)

China sends fighter jets as U.S. health chief visits Taiwan

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Chinese air force jets briefly crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait on Monday and were tracked by Taiwanese missiles, Taiwan’s government said, as U.S. health chief Alex Azar visited the island to offer President Donald Trump’s support.

Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades.

China, which claims the island as its own, condemned the visit which comes after a period of sharply deteriorating relations between China and the United States.

China, which had promised unspecified retaliation to the trip, flew J-11 and J-10 fighter aircraft briefly onto Taiwan’s side of the sensitive and narrow strait that separates it from its giant neighbor, at around 9 am (0100 GMT), shortly before Azar met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s air force said.

The aircraft were tracked by land-based Taiwanese anti-aircraft missiles and were “driven out” by patrolling Taiwanese aircraft, the air force said in a statement released by the defense ministry.

China’s defense ministry did not immediately comment.

A senior Taiwan official familiar with the government’s security planning told Reuters that China was obviously “targeting” Azar’s visit with a “very risky” move given the Chinese jets were in range of Taiwan’s missiles.

The incursion was only the third time since 2016 that Taiwan has said Chinese jets had crossed the strait’s median line.

The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority, amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, and has boosted arms sales.

“It’s a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from President Trump to Taiwan,” Azar told Tsai in the Presidential Office, standing in front of two Taiwanese flags.

Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing.

‘HUGE STEP’

Azar is visiting to strengthen economic and public-health cooperation with Taiwan and support its international role in fighting the novel coronavirus.

“Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwan’s society and culture,” he told Tsai.

Taiwan’s early and effective steps to fight the disease have kept its case numbers far lower than those of its neighbors, with 480 infections and seven deaths. Most cases have been imported.

The United States, which has had more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country, has repeatedly clashed with China over the pandemic, accusing Beijing of lacking transparency.

Tsai told Azar his visit represented “a huge step forward in anti-pandemic collaborations between our countries”, mentioning areas of cooperation including vaccine and drug research and production.

Taiwan has been particularly grateful for U.S. support to permit its attendance at the World Health Organization’s decision-making body the World Health Assembly (WHA), and to allow it greater access to the organisation.

Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to China’s objections. China considers Taiwan a Chinese province.

“I’d like to reiterate that political considerations should never take precedence over the rights to health. The decision to bar Taiwan from participating in the WHA is a violation of the universal rights to health,” Tsai said.

Azar later told reporters that at Trump’s direction, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had sought to restore Taiwan’s status as an observer at the WHA.

“But the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization have prevented that. This has been one of the major frustrations that the Trump administration has had with the World Health Organization and its inability to reform.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)

China seizes U.S. consulate in Chengdu, retaliating for Houston

By Martin Quin Pollard and Thomas Peter

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) – China took over the premises of the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on Monday, after ordering the facility to be vacated in retaliation for China’s ouster last week from its consulate in Houston, Texas.

The seizure capped a dramatic escalation in tensions between the world’s two biggest economies that began when employees at China’s Houston consulate were seen burning documents in a courtyard last Tuesday, hours before Beijing announced that it had been ordered to leave the facility.

The U.S. consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, was closed as of 10 a.m (0200) on Monday, and Chinese authorities had entered the building from the front door, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

On Friday, Beijing announced that it had asked the United States to close its Chengdu post, and gave the Americans 72 hours to vacate, the same amount of time China was given to leave its Houston mission, which was shut on Friday.

“We are disappointed by the

By Martin Quin Pollard and Thomas Peter

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) – China took over the premises of the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on Monday, after ordering the facility to be vacated in retaliation for China’s ouster last week from its consulate in Houston, Texas.

The seizure capped a dramatic escalation in tensions between the world’s two biggest economies that began when employees at China’s Houston consulate were seen burning documents in a courtyard last Tuesday, hours before Beijing announced that it had been ordered to leave the facility.

The U.S. consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, was closed as of 10 a.m (0200) on Monday, and Chinese authorities had entered the building from the front door, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

On Friday, Beijing announced that it had asked the United States to close its Chengdu post, and gave the Americans 72 hours to vacate, the same amount of time China was given to leave its Houston mission, which was shut on Friday.

“We are disappointed by the Chinese Communist Party’s decision and will strive to continue our outreach to the people in this important region through our other posts in China,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.

At midday on Monday, police removed a roadblock that had restricted access to the Chengdu facility, and dozens of passersby stopped to take photos and videos.

One man stood across the street and played the Chinese national anthem from his phone.

“We feel very sad about the breaking down of the relationship between China and U.S.,” said a bystander outside the facility who said his surname was Li. He said he was worried about the impact of deteriorating relations on Chinese citizens who want to travel or study in the United States.

Grey sheet-like material was placed over the spot near the entrance where a plaque had been affixed, and over the place where there was large lettering saying “U.S. Consulate General”.

The U.S. embassy issued a video in Chinese on its Twitter feed: “The U.S. 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.

The American flag was no longer flying at the consulate having been lowered at 6:18 a.m. on Monday, according to video shot by a journalist and shared by state broadcaster CCTV on its Twitter-like Weibo account.

The eagle on top of the flagpole remained.

On Sunday night, a crane was seen entering the consulate compound and hoisting at least one container onto a large truck.

The Chengdu consulate opened in 1985 and had almost 200 employees, including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was not immediately clear how many had been working there at the time of its closure, after U.S. diplomats were evacuated from China because of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S.-China relations have plunged to their worst in decades over a range of disputes, from trade and technology to the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech calling a more assertive approach to China the “mission of our time”.

(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard and Thomas Peter; writing by Tony Munroe; editing by Richard Pullin and Raju Gopalakrishnan)