Chengdu, China — Chinese authorities took control of the former U.S. Consulate in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu on Monday, days after it was ordered closed amid ever-rising tensions between the global powers.
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The tit-for-tat closings marked a significant escalation in the multiple disputes between the countries over issues ranging from trade and technology to national security, human rights, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
A State Department statement to The Associated Press expressed disappointment, saying the consulate "has stood at the center of our relations with the people in Western China, including Tibet, for 35 years."
"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," the statement said.
China's foreign ministry issued a brief notice saying "competent authorities" entered through the front entrance and took over the premises after U.S. diplomats closed it at 10 a.m.
A day earlier, China's foreign ministry issued a statement of protest over what it called intrusions into the Houston consulate that violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-US Consular Convention.
"The Chinese side deplores and firmly opposes the U.S. move of forcibly entering China's Consulate General in Houston and has lodged solemn representations. China will make legitimate and necessary reactions," the statement said.
China maintains consulates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York along with its embassy in Washington.
The U.S. has four other consulates in China and an embassy in Beijing, keeping the sides in parity in terms of diplomatic missions.
China's state broadcaster CCTV posted a video on social media of the American flag in front of the Chengdu consulate being lowered at 6:18 a.m., according to the Reuters news service.
Video was also posted of Chinese personnel covering a sign reading "Consulate General of the United States of America."
The U.S. Embassy also tweeted a video of the flag removal ceremony.
Reuters said the U.S. Embassy tweeted a farewell video saying, "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."
Police closed off a two- to three-block area around the consulate, cutting off virtually any view of the property including the flag. A few vehicles were allowed through after police checks, and others could be seen moving in the distance.
Moving trucks arrived at the U.S. consulate the previous day and left a few hours later. Late Sunday night, flatbed trailers entered the complex. One later emerged carrying a large shipping container and a crane.
The U.S. alleged that the Houston consulate was a nest of Chinese spies who tried to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. China said the allegations were "malicious slander."
The Chengdu consulate briefly came to prominence when the police chief of the nearby city of Chongqing fled there in 2012, precipitating the downfall of Chongqing's politically ambitious leader Bo Xilai in China's biggest political scandal in decades. It also played host to former Vice President Joe Biden during a visit when the current prospective Democratic Party presidential candidate was accompanied by China's now-leader Xi Jinping.