CHENGDU, China (AP) — Moving trucks and vehicles with diplomatic plates pulled out of a U.S. Consulate in southwest China on Sunday, as its impending closure over rising bilateral tensions drew a steady stream of onlookers for the second straight day.
People stopped to take selfies and photos, jamming a sidewalk busy with shoppers and families with strollers on a sunny day in the city of Chengdu. A little boy posed with a small Chinese flag before plainclothes police shooed him away as foreign media cameras zoomed in.
The capital of Sichuan province, along with Houston in Texas, has found itself in the limelight of international politics as China and the U.S. exchanged tit-for-tat orders last week to close each other’s consulates in the two heartland cities.
Police in Chengdu have shut the street and sidewalk in front of the consulate and set up metal barriers along the sidewalk on the other side of the tree-lined road.
Uniformed and plainclothes officers kept watch on both sides of the barriers after scattered incidents following the Chengdu announcement on Friday, including a man who set off firecrackers and hecklers who cursed at foreign media shooting video and photos of the scene.
A man who tired to unfurl a banner or sign late Sunday that he called an open letter to the Chinese government was quickly taken away.
Earlier, a bus left the consulate grounds and what appeared to be embassy staff spoke with plainclothes police before retreating back behind the property’s solid black gates. It wasn’t clear who or what was on the bus.
Three medium-size trucks arrived and left a few hours later, and cars with diplomatic plates departed in between.
China ordered the closing of the Chengdu consulate in retaliation for a U.S. order earlier in the week to close the Chinese Consulate in Houston.
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 consulate closings were a significant escalation in the tensions between the two countries over a range of issues, including trade, technology, security and human rights.