Crowds gathered outside the US consulate compound in downtown Chengdu on Sunday as US personnel hurried to evacuate the premises before Monday morning’s deadline for its closure.
There was a festive atmosphere outside the facility on the tree-lined street on a hot afternoon as onlookers stood alongside dozens of uniformed and plain clothes police opposite the entrance, according to Reuters. Onlookers took photos and videos as the police asked the crowd to move on.
The Chinese government gave the consulate 72 hours to close, according to Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the government-backed tabloid Global Times.
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On Friday he tweeted that Beijing had delivered the official notice at 10am that day, meaning the consulate must close by 10am Monday local time.
Beijing had ordered the Chengdu consulate to close in retaliation for Washington’s move to shut the Chinese consulate in Houston.
The latest round of tit-for-tat has accelerated the sharp deterioration in relations between the world’s two biggest economies, which were already their lowest level in decades amid disputes over trade, technology, the Covid-19 pandemic, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.
Three moving trucks entered the US consulate compound on Saturday afternoon, with workers seen carrying large black rubbish bags from the building in the early hours of the morning. One of them split and appeared to contain shredded paper.
Workers also removed the US insignia from the consulate, which represented US interests in the west and southwest of the country, including the politically sensitive region of Tibet.
The relatively calm atmosphere outside the consulate on Sunday was in sharp contrast to activities on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like messaging service, where many bloggers attacked the Trump administration and even the families of consular staff.
In particular, the social media account of Tzu-I Chuang, the Taiwanese-born wife of US consul general Jim Mullinax was bombarded with angry comments.
Chuang, an anthropologist singer and cookery writer with 590,000 followers on the network, was sent thousands of messages threatening her or accusing her of being a spy and a Taiwan independence activist.
A Tuesday post on Chuang’s account, in which she expressed disappointment at having to cancel a planned family reunion, received almost 7,000 comments, mostly hostile.
One of the comments that garnered 13,000 likes said: “Get out of here, a bunch of spies … you don’t have a clue how much your husband and his men have spied on Tibet and Xinjiang?”
Another post said: “Get out of here spy. I will beat you when you come back.”
But not all the messages were hostile, with some internet users expressing love and support.
Chuang returned to the United States with her two sons in February after the US ordered all diplomatic families to evacuate at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China and last week wrote that the State Department had told she had to remain in the US while her husband carried on his work in China.
Chuang, 46, has published a number of cookbooks including one that covered her work as an anthropologist.
Her mother Fan Yuwen is a famous singer, who was one of the few Taiwanese performers invited to appear on mainland TV’s Lunar New Year gala.
Chuang has also made an album in Taiwan and used to perform in the streets of Chengdu.
Some of her writings about life at the Chengdu consulate were widely shared on Chinese social media platforms, making her the most famous American diplomat’s wife in China.
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More from South China Morning Post:
- US-China relations: thousands gather to see closure of Chengdu consulate
- ‘Americans were interfering in China’s domestic affairs’: Beijing justifies closing US Chengdu consulate
- China’s decision to close US consulate in Chengdu likely driven by size, observers say
- China complains US ‘forced entry’ into Houston consulate after diplomats leave over spying claims
- Beijing’s Houston consulate is ‘epicentre’ of theft of research by Chinese military, US diplomat says