RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This morning, China has ordered the closure of the U.S. Consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu. It's retaliation after the U.S. did something similar, ordered China's Consulate in Houston to shut down earlier this week. The Chinese have until today to get out of that diplomatic facility. So where's all this going in an already fraught relationship?
NPR's Emily Feng is with us from Beijing. Good morning, Emily.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: I mean, there have been an awful lot of retaliatory measures between the U.S. and China this month. Can you explain at this point? What do we know about why the two countries have gotten to this point where they're shutting down each other's consulates?
FENG: China made clear today that it was only shutting down the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu as retaliation in response to the U.S. decision to close its consulate. And then it made this very cryptic allegation at today's foreign ministry briefing in Beijing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHU SHULONG: (Non-English language spoken).
FENG: He's saying several employees at the consulate engaged in activities not in accordance with their identities, interfered in China's internal affairs and hurt China's national security interests. He's effectively alleging that they conducted espionage from the U.S. Consulate.
The U.S. government has also not given us a thorough accounting of why it decided to shut down the Chinese Consulate in Houston but have made it clear that the closure pertains to specific cases of industrial espionage, as well. Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered this major speech about confronting China. And in that speech, he said the U.S. closed down China's Houston Consulate because it was a, quote, "hub of spying and intellectual property theft," which China, of course, denies.
MARTIN: I mean, the two countries have made these kinds of allegations, I mean, often between - over many years. How seriously might this particular moment damage the relationship?
FENG: This is quite serious because it's the actual decoupling of some of the foreign policy and trade institutions between the two countries. It's consulates that are being shut down, not embassies. So consulates don't really set foreign policy, but they are important regional nodes for governments to promote trade and investment, to manage the exchange of peoples between the two countries and to do outreach. And right now it's not clear whether the diplomats at the two consulates in Chengdu and Houston can stay once the consulates are closed, and neither governments have responded to my queries about this.
But in China, foreign policy experts and officials are very defiant. Chu Shulong is an international relations expert at Beijing's Tsinghua University. And he says, without the U.S., China will survive; it will thrive. And the U.S. cannot change the trend of China's development. China's technology and military will continue to progress if not a little more slowly without the U.S. He also said to me that he fears military confrontation could be on the table - and even - if the U.S. proceeds at this rate, that U.S.-China relations could be severed as well.
MARTIN: Wow. So China's always playing a really long game. Right? I mean, what have you learned about how the Chinese see this particular moment, the downward spiral of this relationship right now?
FENG: The foreign policy experts I've talked to are taking a wait-and-see approach. They think that the U.S.'s China policy depends largely on who the U.S. chooses as president in November. And right now what they're trying to do is maintain relationships and strike a balance of not trying to further escalate tensions while still looking like it's standing up to the Americans.
MARTIN: NPR's Emily Feng reporting from Beijing. Thank you.
FENG: Thanks, Rachel.
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