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)

 

U.S. consulate warns employees as gun battles rock Mexican border city

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The United States consulate in Mexico’s border city of Nuevo Laredo issued a security alert on Wednesday, warning against gun battles and urging government employees to take precautions.

Gun battles have killed at least three people this week in the northern city bordering the Texas city of Laredo, media have said. It one of the Mexican cities where the U.S. government has sent asylum seekers to wait as their cases are decided.

“The consulate has received reports of multiple gunfights throughout the city of Nuevo Laredo,” it said in a Twitter post. “U.S. government personnel are advised to shelter in place.”

On Twitter, users purportedly from Laredo reported hearing gunfire ringing out from the neighboring Mexican city.

In a Twitter post late on Wednesday, Francisco Cabeza de Vaca, the governor of Tamaulipas, the state home to Nuevo Laredo, blamed the attacks on its Cartel of the Northeast.

“After the cowardly attacks on the part of the Cartel of the Northeast in Nuevo Laredo, the (government of Tamaulipas) will not let down its guard and will continue acting with strength against criminals,” he wrote.

Tension over the cartels intensified in November when suspected cartel members massacred three women and six children of U.S.-Mexican origin in northern Mexico.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to designate the groups as terrorist organizations in response to a series of bloody security breaches triggered by cartel gunmen.

(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. to merge Jerusalem consulate in to new embassy

FILE PHOTO: U.S. marines take part in the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will merge the U.S. Consulate General, which serves Palestinians, with its new embassy into a single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations,” Pompeo said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”

The consulate-general in Jerusalem is the top mission for Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem for their capital.

“We will continue to conduct a full range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem through a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside U.S. Embassy Jerusalem,” Pompeo said.

He said the Trump administration was committed to a peace effort between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump outraged the Arab world and stoked international concern by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians and Palestinian leaders accused Trump of sowing instability by overturning decades of U.S. policy.

Palestinians, with broad international backing, seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed, as its “eternal and indivisible capital,” but that is not recognized internationally. The Trump administration has avoided that description, and noted that the city’s final borders should be decided by the parties.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)