China has ordered the U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu to close in retaliation for the shuttering of its own consulate in Houston.
The closure was “legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the United States,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Chengdu is the westernmost Chinese city with an American consulate, whose closing will likely stymie U.S. efforts to collect information on the western provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet.
The shuttering of the Houston consulate could have an impact on China’s own intelligence-gathering efforts.
“China’s consulate in Houston is not a diplomatic facility. It is the central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States,” Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), acting head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Now that building must close & the spies have 72 hours to leave or face arrest.”
China’s government ordered the Chengdu consulate closed hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech on the U.S.-China relationship at the Richard M. Nixon presidential library. Nixon in 1972 began a policy of engagement with China as a means of prying the nation away from an alliance with the Soviet Union.
“We must admit a hard truth that should guide us in the years and decades to come, that if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won’t get it done,” Pompeo said. “We must not continue it and we must not return to it.”