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US closes consulate in Chengdu, China

The US says it closed its consulate in Chengdu, China after China closed the consulate in retaliation for a US order to close the Chinese consulate in Houston last week.

State Department statement said the consulate suspended operations at 10:00 am Monday.

It expressed disappointment at China’s decision, saying that the US would seek to continue its reach to the region through its other missions in China.

The consulate in southwest China has “been at the center of our relations with the people of western China, including Tibet, for 35 years,” the statement said.

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Chinese paramilitary police officers march near a gated neighborhood for the official closure of the US Consulate in Chengdu (Ng Han Guan / AP)

The tit-for-tat closings marked a significant escalation in tensions between the two countries on a range of issues, including trade, technology, security and human rights.

Moving vans arrived at the US consulate on Sunday afternoon and left a few hours later.

Flatbed trailers entered the complex in the evening. Later one emerged with a large shipping container and a crane.

Before the area closed, the impending closure of the consulate attracted a steady stream of spectators all weekend as Chengdu, like Houston, was in the spotlight of international politics.

People stopped to take selfies and photos, while on a sunny day in Chengdu city standing on a sidewalk crowded with shoppers and families with prams.

A little boy posed with a small Chinese flag before the plainclothes police chased him away as foreign media cameras zoomed in.

Police had closed the street and sidewalk to the consulate, and built metal gates along the sidewalk on the other side of the tree-lined road.

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The consulate drew a lot of attention in the days before the closure (Ng Han Guan / AP)

Uniformed and plainclothes officers kept watch on both sides of the barriers after scattered incidents following Chengdu’s announcement on Friday, including a man who caused fireworks and explosives that swore over foreign media recording videos and photos of the scene.

A man trying to unfold a large sign on 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 to the plainclothes police before retreating behind the property’s sturdy black gates.

It was not clear who or what was on the bus.

Three medium-sized trucks arrived and left a few hours later, and cars with diplomatic plates left in between.

The U.S. claimed the Houston Consulate was a nest of Chinese spies attempting to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center at Houston.

China said the charges were “malicious slander”.