Chinese police officers guard the former United States Consulate that was closed in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan…
Chinese police officers guard the former United States Consulate that was closed in Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan province on, July 27, 2020.

The U.S. consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu officially closed Monday as U.S.-China relations marked a new low point in more than 40 years.  

China took over the premises after U.S. Marines in the southwestern city lowered the American flag that had been flying over the building. 

Social media posts released by the U.S. embassy in Beijing and posted to Chinese microblogging giant Weibo and on Twitter noted that the consulate has been promoting the relations between the two peoples since 1985. "Today, we bid farewell to the US Consulate General in Chengdu. We will miss you forever."   

The closure capped a dramatic escalation in recent weeks of tensions that began when China’s Houston consulate was ordered to close and employees at the Chinese mission were seen burning documents in a courtyard. The United States accused the diplomatic facility of engaging in espionage and intellectual property theft.   

In the decades since China and the U.S. established formal diplomatic relations, tensions have risen and fallen over a wide range of issues, and the world’s two largest economies have even come dangerously close to outright confrontation. Yet some observers say Monday's event puts the current bilateral relationship under more stress than at any time in recent history.  

Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson Center research organization in Washington, said that closure of consulates has never happened since the two countries established diplomatic relations. "In this sense, the relationship between the two sides has indeed deteriorated to an unprecedented level," Yun told VOA in a telephone interview.   

China took over the premises of the consulate after the closure in retaliation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Monday that the shutdown was a justified and necessary response to what it called the unjustifiable behavior of the U.S.  

"China's requirement conforms to the international law and basic norms governing international relations, as well as diplomatic conventions," spokesman Wang Wenbin said.   

A State Department statement said the consulate "has stood at the center of our relations with the people in Western China, including Tibet, for 35 years."   

Meanwhile, in an interview with CBS News' Face the Nation on Sunday, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that more Chinese consulates "may well be closed" moving forward.  

He said the consulate in Houston had been used as a base for spying there and throughout the Southwest.