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U.S., China consulate closures deal losses to both nations

20 Comments
By MATTHEW LEE

In shutting each other’s consulates, the United States and China have done more than strike symbolic blows in their escalating feud. They’ve also dimmed each other’s ability to observe — and to spy on — critical regions of their countries.

For the United States, the loss of the Chengdu mission in southwestern China will, among other things, cloud its view of Tibet, a region where Buddhist residents say Beijing is eroding its culture and its traditional independent streak. China says Tibet has been its territory for centuries.

For China, the loss of its mission in Houston dims its view of America’s South and, according to U.S. officials, removes the nerve center of a Chinese spying network.

While the impact of the consulate closures has yet to be fully felt by either side, it will be.

“We’ll be flying blind if not with very dark glasses and so will they,” said Beatrice Camp, a retired career diplomat who served as consul general at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai from 2008 to 2011.

The closures of the consulates up the ante in the diplomatic confrontation, with the Trump administration turning up the heat on China in the midst of an already heated rivalry that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and ahead of the November U.S. presidential election — and Beijing responding in kind.

As President Donald Trump, under fire for his response to the pandemic, points to China as the culprit, neither side appears willing to back down. Although a calm of sorts has descended in recent days with no new actions or retaliation announced, U.S. officials say more is coming.

“It’s extremely aggressive, extremely belligerent and I don’t know what the goal is or where this is supposed to take us,” said Camp, noting that cooperation and exchanges in the fields of agriculture, energy, aviation, the environment and commercial and cultural exchanges will suffer.

In addition to serving as service centers for visa seekers and Chinese and American citizens in need of assistance in each city, the consulates provided a safe and secure headquarters for intelligence collection and political reporting.

In Houston, U.S. officials said they removed the epicenter of a Chinese spying network that spanned more than 25 cities, collecting intelligence, trying to steal intellectual property and harassing the expatriate families of dissidents and others while trying to coerce them to return to China.

Led by a consul general who had previously served in Australia, where China has been especially active in going after expatriates, the Houston consulate was “particularly aggressive and particularly successful,” one U.S. official said.

U.S. officials do not deny collecting intelligence from the consulate in Chengdu but insist that it functioned the same as any diplomatic mission run by the United States or other nations.

A second U.S. official, who like the first was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Chengdu was important for “understanding and messaging the Chinese people and especially the people in that district, which includes Tibet.”

But the officials said that those efforts were hamstrung by Chinese regulations and that China enjoyed far greater access from its Houston consulate than U.S. diplomats did in Chengdu.

The U.S. has had a consulate in Chengdu for 35 years, but its presence in southwest China predates that. During World War II, American planes airlifted supplies to Chinese troops in the area from bases in India and Burma, now called Myanmar, in a drive to hold back the Japanese advance.

For many years, it was the lone foreign consulate in Chengdu, with other nations forced to locate diplomatic missions in Chonqqing, a mega-city that is home to major U.S. and other Western commercial interests. The Chengdu consulate had also overseen U.S. interests in the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou.

Chengdu is also a jumping-off point for visits to Tibet, access to which has long been restricted for foreigners, particularly since an uprising against Beijing’s rule in 2008. China says Tibet has been its territory for seven centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that time.

Tibet’s Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India in 1959 amid an uprising against Chinese rule, and Beijing has refused dialogue with his self-declared government in exile.

China and India still contest the high-mountain border between the sides, and their forces engaged in clashes this summer that left 20 Indian troops dead. China has not disclosed its casualty count.

Prior to the fighting, the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Terry Branstad, visited Tibet last year and urged Beijing to undertake substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama and refrain from interfering in religious practices.

As the capital of Sichuan province, with a population of more than 81 million people, Chengdu looms large in China’s economy, playing a major role in industries from aviation to pharmaceuticals and agricultural products.

With the Houston consulate’s closing, American citizens and Chinese seeking visas or wishing to manage business in the U.S. will have to travel to the embassy in Beijing or to consulates along the East Coast. The U.S. consulate in the central China city of Wuhan, from which the global pandemic first emerged late last year, remains closed.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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"trade wars are easy to win"

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Close down both countries' diplomatic missions, embassies and consulates until they learn that they can't dictate and threaten the rest of the world.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

"In shutting each other’s consulates, the United States and China have done more than strike symbolic blows in their escalating feud. They’ve also dimmed each other’s ability to observe — and to spy on — critical regions of their countries.“We’ll be flying blind if not with very dark glasses and so will they,” said Beatrice Camp, a retired career diplomat who served as consul general at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai from 2008 to 2011."

Seriously, I have not been affected by either side. Perhaps because it only hurts those wealthy white collar criminals called foundations or fund managing partnerships? I can understand they would surely lose. As for the spying, please does this diplomat really think people are that gullible? Perhaps if he didn't read the speech from 2004 translated later in 2005 that pretty much covers just about everything today. Guess this person has never heard of NSA, CIA, FBI or covert ops and boots on the ground intel. Sorry , but not buying, it's not like they are using smoke signals these days.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

This article is a garbage mentioning small instances one after another. It was a big and serious decision to defend free world from the totalitarian communist country. We cannot let China dominate the world.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

It was a big and serious decision to defend free world from the totalitarian communist country.

It's certainly totalitarian. But bears little resemblence to the ideals of communism.

We cannot let China dominate the world.

And we cannot let the US, either.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Houston was a good start. San Francisco and New York are just as much spy hotbeds. Shut them down.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

China has proved time and time again it is nothing but a communist dictatorship that hates fair competition and basic freedom.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

There will be no need for embassies and consulates as spy satellites are probably covering most if the intelligence gathering now.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

This article is a garbage mentioning small instances one after another. It was a big and serious decision to defend free world from the totalitarian communist country. We cannot let China dominate the world.

I agree, the last thing we need is Communism to worm it’s way and take root in our country.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

If only Washingjing opened an embassy in Taipei instead of engaging Beijington in a show of charade via closing of consulates then it could have been a big win for democracy.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

If only Washingjing opened an embassy in Taipei instead of engaging Beijington in a show of charade via closing of consulates then it could have been a big win for democracy.

I wonder though can allied island nations ever be able to thwart a massive mainland entity like China from a strategic point of view?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

RecklessToday  05:03 pm JST

If only Washingjing opened an embassy in Taipei instead of engaging Beijington in a show of charade via closing of consulates then it could have been a big win for democracy.

I wonder though can allied island nations ever be able to thwart a massive mainland entity like China from a strategic point of view?

Yes, but only by making the cost too great for China. Bullies pick on smaller targets because they are easier to overcome. They don't target those bigger than themselves.

Taiwan needs to rename itself The Republic of Taiwan. re-write it's constitution and throw away any reference to "China", Taiwan is never going to take back the mainland. Declare itself a sovereign nation. apply for UN membership, and let China make a fool of itself trying to obstruct it before the whole world.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Closing embassies or missions has no effect whatsoever on intelligence gathering. You do not have caucasian spies in China, you have Chinese spies in China and caucasian spies in US not Chinese. And as for passing information back to home countries, there are many many ways this can be done securely, there is a thing that is called Internet this days, not messenger pigeons. This article just blows smoke and sends a false message that they will have problems gathering info... The only people who will be affected are ordinary citizens who need a visa for tourism or need their passports renewed or seek political asylum...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

No US consulate in Chengdu and PROC consulate in Houston means nothin has changed.

It’s just a charade.

When the late President LTH wanted to change the ROC Constitution and declare TW-China relationship as State-to-State guess who stopped him from doin so?

Not Beijington but Washingjing!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Taiwan needs to rename itself The Republic of Taiwan. re-write it's constitution and throw away any reference to "China", Taiwan is never going to take back the mainland. Declare itself a sovereign nation. apply for UN membership, and let China make a fool of itself trying to obstruct it before the whole world.

But China is basically taking over Hong Kong, no one is doing anything. A rational Chinese leadership would conclude that now is the time to give a good cow punch and take Taiwan and suffer the consequences but integrate Taiwan completely. I do not think the world would have the stomach to invade and free Taiwan. Just saying that this scenario is getting likely in my book.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wait for LA/SF/Seattle consulates to shut down. There aren't many Americans going to China anyway (students, tourists, workers.... etc)....while millions if not all of them will sell their arm/limb just to come to America.

Those students enrolled in US schools spying and stealing technology.... are heading home.... as soon as this thingy escalates. No more visa to anchor moms either.

Makes you wonder....they hate the US... yet they are dying to come to America. The Trumpet did not blink on the Wall, Iran, Nato and the DC Swamp....and so with this.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"Seriously, I have not been affected by either side. Perhaps because it only hurts those wealthy white collar criminals called foundations or fund managing partnerships? I can understand they would surely lose. As for the spying, please does this diplomat really think people are that gullible? Perhaps if he didn't read the speech from 2004 translated later in 2005 that pretty much covers just about everything today. Guess this person has never heard of NSA, CIA, FBI or covert ops and boots on the ground intel. Sorry , but not buying, it's not like they are using smoke signals these days.

While technical means are useful for intelligence gathering they are limited. There is no replacement for meeting face to face with people in the country from which a nation is gathering information in order to understand it. Some information a nation wants to know can only come from other people in that nation.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"There will be no need for embassies and consulates as spy satellites are probably covering most if the intelligence gathering now."

A satellite cannot tell you what is on people's minds. Only being there and meeting people face to face can tell you what they are thinking. It is how a nation obtains the inside view of an adversary.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"If only Washingjing opened an embassy in Taipei instead of engaging Beijington in a show of charade via closing of consulates then it could have been a big win for democracy."

Taiwan would have to consent to host an official US Embassy. Doing so would probably be seen by China as a declaration of independence by Taiwan and a repudiation of the One-China policy by the US. It would probably lead directly to war. It would also immediately end all US owned businesses in China. GM and Caterpillar would lose their biggest markets. Boeing would lose its second biggest markets. GM and Boeing would lose all of their manufacturing plants there (yes, Boeing has an assembly hall in Zhoushan), costing both firms many billions in lost investment and sales revenues. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. It would probably be the end of any US - PRC relationship and probable war.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It would probably be the end of any US - PRC relationship and probable war.

Sounds exactly like what will happen when I ask my wife for divorce.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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