Up in Smoke
The United States ordered China to close its Houston consulate within 72 hours, as tensions continue to escalate between the two nations. In its justification for the closure, a State Department spokesperson alleged that Beijing had for years used the post "in massive illegal spying and influence operations," while Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that the consulate was "the central node of the Communist Party's vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States."
China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin described the US's decision as "outrageous and unjustified." In retaliation, China ordered the US to close its own consulate in Chengdu, citing that the Chengdu consular staff had interfered with Chinese internal affairs on various occasions. Of the US's 5 Chinese consulate posts, the Chengdu consulate covers a large portion of western China, including Tibet. The FBI is simultaneously claiming that China is harboring in its San Francisco consulate a fugitive scientist, who allegedly lied about her connections to the country's People's Liberation Army to obtain a US visa. As tensions show no sign of letting up, scholars like Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University worry that a "total decoupling would involve enormous costs" for both the US and China. Read Professor Nye's latest commentary on China-US Focus.
China successfully launched its ambitious mission to Mars, starting a seven-month-long journey to the planet. The project, which contains an orbiter, rover and lander, aims to obtain more information about Mars's geological structure, soil characteristics and other facets of natural life on the planet, according to the chief scientist. The project came to fruition in just four years.
July is an ambitious month for countries embarking on space exploration – the UAE successfully launched their Hope spacecraft on Monday, while the US's own Perseverance rover is scheduled to launch on July 30th. Due to the patterns of orbits, opportunities for reaching Mars are limited; the next chance to explore the planet won't come for another 26 months.
In the thick of the escalating US-China conflict, the Trump administration is continuing to call on allies to follow its lead in taking a harder line towards China. US Secretary of State Pompeo gave a speech this week in which he said, "We, the free nations of the world, must induce change in the [Chinese Communist Party's] behavior in more creative and assertive ways."
The United Kingdom in particular seems to be following suit, and the "golden era" of UK-Chinese relations looks more in doubt than ever. After the country banned Chinese telecom company Huawei, a move the UK explained as the result of "geopolitical" pressure from President Trump, Britain has additionally terminated its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, as well as unveiled a new visa that will grant Hongkongers with British National Overseas passports the right to settle in the UK. China has said that it will refuse to recognize the passports for future travel, affecting Hong Kong residents without other travel documentation. Secretary Pompeo praised the UK's "principled response" to China in a meeting with the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab earlier this week.
Other US allies are considering similar steps, however have not been as aggressive as the UK just yet. EU member states are mulling over a ban on Huawei products, for instance, bringing them in line with measures already taken by the US and UK. China has suggested that it would ban Nokia and Ericsson in retaliation, should countries move forward with such plans. Japan, meanwhile, is offering "exit subsidies" to 87 companies who move production lines out of China to Japan or Southeast Asia. For more on China-EU relations, read the latest commentary from Cui Hongjian, Director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies.