The shuttering of the U.S. mission in Chengdu follows a U.S. order that China close its consulate in Houston

The shuttering of the U.S. mission in Chengdu follows a U.S. order that China close its consulate in Houston

This file photo taken in 2012 shows a Chinese paramilitary policeman gesturing to photographers at the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan province.
GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government has ordered the closure of a U.S. consulate in southern China, as the worlds pre-eminent powers hurtle toward more direct confrontation and a dismantling of ties that have for decades sustained a vast economic and cultural relationship.
The shuttering of the U.S. mission in Chengdu follows a U.S. order that China close its consulate in Houston, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a hub of spying and intellectual property theft in a speech Thursday night that signalled a hardening U.S. posture toward China.
In China, meanwhile, Washington was accused of launching a diplomatic war.
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The U.S. offensive, though dismissed by some foreign policy scholars in Beijing as grandstanding by a Donald Trump administration seeking re-election, stands to deepen fractures between the two countries and further unsettle the global economic and diplomatic landscape for other countries, Canada among them.
Beijings actions threaten our people and our prosperity, Mr. Pompeo said Thursday in a speech dedicated to China in which he called for other democratic countries to unite in inducing China to change.
We cant treat this incarnation of China as a normal country, just like any other, he said, describing Beijings Communist Party leadership as aggressively hostile to freedom and committed to global hegemony. If we bend the knee now, our childrens children may be at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party, he said.
The U.S. eviction of the Chinese presence from Houston was a gesture of diplomatic hostility freighted with symbolism. The Houston mission opened in 1979 as the first Chinese consulate in the U.S. after the re-establishment of relations between the two countries.
Its closure, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said this week, amounts to breaking down the friendship bridge between the two sides. On Friday, he accused U.S. diplomats in the Chengdu consulate, which is geographically near the vast Tibetan plateau that has been the site of anti-government protests, of conducting activities which dont match their roles, an apparent accusation of espionage. Still, Mr. Wang added, the current China-U.S. situation is not something China wants to see.
Over the past two years, the U.S. has employed tools of economic coercion against China, imposing tariffs on a sweeping array of goods and leading a global campaign to urge the rejection of Huaweis 5G network technology.
But the U.S. is now embarking on a more determined campaign to oppose and undermine Chinese national interests, rejecting the principles of engagement that have defined the approach Washington and many other western countries, Canada among them have taken toward China for decades.
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In its place is conflict.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. declared most of Chinas territorial claims in the South China Sea completely unlawful, and pledged U.S. support for other countries with competing offshore claims.
U.S. law enforcement has taken aggressive action against Chinese scientists accused of hiding their military credentials at least one such person now appears to have taken refuge in Chinas San Francisco consulate while immigration authorities have banned graduate students with links to military institutions. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on high-ranking Chinese officials for human rights violations and evicted Chinese journalists.
The White House is considering a travel ban on members of the Chinese Communist Party. Mr. Pompeo has called into question the moral standing of U.S. companies that do business with China.
Trade ties between the two countries are already weakening. In the first half of 2020, the U.S. accounted for 11.5 per cent of Chinas imports and exports, a decrease from 13.7 per cent just two years ago (Canadas share has remained constant over that period, at 1.3 per cent).
Mr. Trump is backing more explicit confrontation, by raising the plane of confrontation from the economy and technology to diplomacy, said Su Hao, a scholar in the School of Diplomacy at China Foreign Affairs University. Its a high-profile attempt to openly depict China as an enemy of the U.S., and for Trump to make himself into a flag-bearer in the fight against China. He likened the consulate closures to the opening moves in a diplomatic war, one where an indirect standoff officially becomes a direct, a face-to-face confrontation, he said.
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If it becomes bad enough, the military will be dragged in, too.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly called for calm, even as foreign minister Wang Yi accused the U.S. of having lost its mind, morals and credibility. Still, Chinas posture is likely to remain defensive, with Beijing seeking to avoid provoking the U.S., said Wang Yong, director of the Center for International Political Economy at Peking University and a distinguished fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
China will keep behaving with sufficient restraint, said Prof. Wang, who also teaches at the Party School of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But, he added, Beijing may be prompted to take its own action against the U.S., including measures against U.S. companies, because domestic emotion against the U.S. is strong at the moment.
He faulted hawkish conservatives for stirring up enmity with China, in part to boost Mr. Trumps domestic appeal ahead of the U.S. election this year.
By manipulating the days Trump remains in power and promoting a succession of policies that constrain China, they want to achieve an ultimate goal that is, full decoupling of China and the U.S. in all areas, including the economy, technology and communication and thereby push forward a new cold war against China, he said.
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He nonetheless expressed confidence that restraint will prevail, given the depth of mutual economic reliance between the two countries. Without China, be it our manufacturing industry or our market, it will be extremely difficult for major U.S. corporations to safeguard their current position of global leadership, he said.
The White House has, in recent years, shown a pattern of relenting in its campaigns against China, easing a legal chokehold on technology company ZTE and stepping back from the imposition of the most punitive tariffs.
But the new willingness of Washington to directly confront the Chinese state and not merely through indirect measures against its companies and goods makes this a very dangerous time, said Gordon Flake, chief executive of Australias Perth USAsia Centre.
The reason its dangerous is because of the unpredictable nature of decision-making in the Trump administration in its waning days, and the high politicization of the relationship as a result.
It is, however, Beijing itself that has adopted a policy of assertive expansionism, Mr. Flake said, both by expanding its overseas influence operations and using its military power to impose territorial claims on neighbouring countries.
The fundamental issue here is changes in China, he said.
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Its not clear where middle ground can be found between two countries that see themselves as superpowers but hold dramatically differing views on governance, state power, civic values and their own global roles.
China sees communism as the destination for itself, and for countries all around the world, a stance that is anathema to the U.S., said Shen Dingli, a Fudan University professor who is one of Chinas top scholars in international relations.
Intrinsically, its a battle between two paths and two systems one with a long history. Such conflict contributed to the outbreak of the Korea War and the Vietnam War, he said.
Now for China and the U.S., he said, the road ahead will only be filled with even more tension and confrontation. There will be no rest between the two of us.
-with reporting by Alexandra Li
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