After the closure of its consulate in Houston, China closes its US mission in Chengdu. Bilateral relations are in the basement.

Unwanted photos: in front of the US consulate in Chengdu, China Photo: Reuters

PEKING taz | Only one topic currently dominates the Chinese news. Just how massive the interest in the escalating conflict with the USA is, is demonstrated by the absurd live stream of a state television station that has set up two cameras in front of the US consulate in Chengdu: up to 20 million Chinese people watched the profane street scene on Friday, which did nothing showed different than a three-story functional building in the provincial capital of Sichuan. Nonetheless, Internet users celebrated in smirking comments: “Let’s move the building to a hotpot restaurant,” wrote one, receiving more than 100,000 likes.

The U.S. consulate in Chengdu has become the youngest symbol in the dispute between the two world powers. After US President Donald Trump closed the Chinese consulate in Houston, the Chinese now ordered their retaliation. The one in Chengdu is the consulate that is also responsible for the sensitive region of Tibet. A spokesman for the Beijing Ministry of Foreign Affairs described its closure as “legitimate and necessary”.

In fact, it is a response at eye level that can certainly be interpreted as a compromise: the most important consulate for the United States in Hong Kong remains open.

Nonetheless, bilateral relations have long been at an all-time low: the conflict extends to economic power, geopolitical spheres of influence, technology transfers and the question of guilt in the corona pandemic.

Allegations from the USA are viewed with skepticism

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a keynote speech on “Communist China and the Future of the Free World”. He spoke of China’s “new tyranny” and for the first time openly attacked President Xi Jinping as a “true” ideologist of totalitarian Marxism-Leninism dreaming of a global hegemony of Chinese communism. The closed consulate in Houston was “a center for espionage”.

The allegations should be viewed with a good deal of skepticism: after all, the US government has neither provided any substantiated evidence nor named any specific events. The suspicion cannot therefore be shaken that President Trump is taking tough action against the rival from the Far East, especially for domestic political reasons, in order to increase his chances of being re-elected.

“The conspiracy theorist in me is wondering: Would it be possible to assume that an ‘armed conflict’ could help Donald Trump stay in office?” Writes German Green Party politician and head of the European Parliament’s China delegation, Reinhard Bütikofer, ironic on Twitter. Also in an editorial of the Washington Post Trump’s “incoherent” offensive against Beijing is said to be more of an election campaign measure than responding to China’s challenge under Xi Jinping.

Dealing with China has become one of the central questions. Xi has led his country into deeper geopolitical isolation since the corona pandemic. On the border with India, soldiers have started the most difficult battles for decades, in Southeast Asia there is anger about Beijing’s increasingly bold claims to power in the South China Sea, and relations with Japan are also deteriorating rapidly.

Further closures of consulates are possible

What the world is currently experiencing is a paradigm shift in Chinese foreign policy: For some time now, considering strategic restraint, China has been aggressively pursuing its power interests. However, observers disagree in their interpretation: Some speak of a normalization of the world order by Beijing, which wants to know that its newly gained power is also reflected on the international stage.

Critics, on the other hand, interpret the behavior of the Chinese government as the desperate hissing of a tiger that is being cornered on all sides.

Whoever listens to government experts in Beijing hears in unison that the conflict with the United States will worsen. The consulate closings would go even further: China’s representation in San Francisco and the US consulate in Shenyang were at stake.