CHENGDU, China (AP) — The American flag has been taken down at a U.S. consulate in southwestern China, according to state media, as officials vacate the premises under order of the Chinese government.
State broadcaster CCTV said on its social media account that the flag was lowered at 6:18 a.m. on Monday at the U.S. mission in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan provine.
Police have closed off a two to three block area around the consulate, cutting off virtually any view of the property. Vehicles could be seen moving in the distance behind multiple police lines.
China ordered the closing of the consulate on Friday in retaliation for a U.S. order to close the Chinese Consulate in Houston. The tit-for-tat closings marked a significant escalation in the tensions between the two countries over a range of issues, including trade, technology, security and human rights.
Moving trucks arrived at the U.S. consulate Sunday afternoon and left a few hours later. Late at night, flatbed trailers entered the complex. One later emerged carrying a large shipping container and a crane.
Before the area was closed, the impending closure of the consulate drew a steady stream of onlookers over the weekend as Chengdu, like Houston, found itself in the limelight of international politics.
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.
Police had 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 large placard 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.
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.”