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Thousands Gather in Chengdu to Watch American Diplomats Evacuate

“Many people came to see what was going on,” she said. “There were more even than in 1999.”


Thousands of people gathered outside the US consulate in Chengdu on Saturday as workers inside packed up and prepared to leaveon the orders of Beijing.

Against a heavy police and security presence, three trucks and a bus were seen entering and leaving the compound, while a number of workers headed out on foot, their arms filled with assorted boxes and files.

Others left the compound on heavily laden scooters, while cleaners disposed of large black bin bags – presumably full of non-sensitive materials – and a maintenance team removed the American insignia from an exterior wall.

While the capital of southwest China’s Sichuan province is not particularly regarded as a hotbed of international political tensions, the city became the focus for an outpouring of nationalistic sentiment after Beijing ordered the closure of the US mission on Friday.

That instruction came in retaliation for Washington issuing a similar order to the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas earlier in the week.

Since Friday afternoon, the area around the consulate has been under heavy security, with dozens of uniformed and plain-clothes police officers patrolling the area, and all adjacent streets closed off to traffic, allowing only pedestrians to get close.

Among the huge crowds was Wang Dayou, who said he and his son had made a half-hour subway journey across the city to witness the consulate’s demise.

Standing on the roadside opposite the compound, the forty-something said to his son: “It’s a reasonable retaliation from the Chinese government, because the US ordered China to close its consulate in Houston.”

When asked why he thought it important for his son to witness the event, he said: “I want him to understand cause and effect. He needs to be educated.

“We are closing the consulates now. But what comes next? Maybe it will be the evacuation of citizens and a hot war. But I hope we won’t go that far.”

Despite having to put up with a bit of rain, the large crowd was mostly good-natured, although police said that one man was reprimanded on Friday evening for setting off a firecracker.

Most people were content to take photographs and shoot video on their phones.

Police did intervene, however, when a young woman shouted: “We Chinese people should be united. For anyone who dares to invade our territory or bully our compatriots, we’ll let them have no return.”

She then began singing the patriotic song, I Love You, China, after which she was told by an officer that there were too many people on the street and she would have to leave.

Deng Siyi, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, who was also at the scene, said: “If China ordered the US [to close the consulate], they must have done something wrong.”

Just hours after Beijing issued that order, state broadcaster CCTV set up a live stream from outside the consulate. As of Friday night it had been viewed 45 million times, and garnered 4 million likes and 451,000 comments.

Despite the nationalistic atmosphere, some people said they were worried about the deteriorating state of US-China relations.

A 62-year-old woman with the surname Cheng, said Beijing had to retaliate for the closure of its consulate in Houston, but a bad relationship between the two countries was no good for the people on either side.

Cheng said she lived just across the street.

“We felt very safe living near the consulate, and it’s convenient,” she said. “But if it’s going to be closed, I worry the price of my house is going to drop.”

She said she was also worried about her relatives who have lived in the US since the 1980s.

“If relations between the two countries deteriorates, Chinese-Americans will face more challenges,” she said.

Cheng said the last time she saw so many people outside the Chengdu consulate was in 1999, after the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. That incident sparked mass protests outside the US embassy in Beijing and its consulates across China.

Another time was in 2012, she said, when the consulate provided temporary refuge for Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief, who was trying to defect after falling out with his boss Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party head of the southwestern municipality.

“Many people came to see what was going on,” she said. “There were more even than in 1999.”

Source: South China Morning Post

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