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A man was seen working to remove the diplomatic plaque from a wall of the US consulate in Chengdu on Sunday

American diplomats are to leave the US consulate in the south-western Chinese city of Chengdu, following Beijing’s decision to close the mission.

With just hours to go before a Monday morning deadline, staff could be seen carrying box files and bags of rubbish.

Meanwhile, crowds of local residents have gathered outside, with many waving Chinese flags and taking selfies.

China acted in response to the US closing its consulate in Houston, Texas, last week.

After a 72-hour deadline for Chinese diplomats to leave the Houston mission expired on Friday, reporters saw men who appeared to be US officials force open a door to enter the premises.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had decided to act because Beijing was “stealing” intellectual property.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded by saying that the US move was based on “a hodgepodge of anti-Chinese lies”.

Tensions have been escalating between the two nuclear powers over a number of issues:

What’s the latest from Chengdu?

Chinese state media have been showing pictures of lorries leaving the US consulate, and workers removing diplomatic insignia from the building.

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Crowds of curious locals gathered outside the US diplomatic mission on Sunday

Dozens of Chinese police have been deployed outside, urging onlookers to move on and trying to prevent any provocations.

However, boos were heard when a bus with tinted windows left the building on Sunday, the AFP news agency reports.

When Chinese diplomats left their mission in Houston for the last time they were jeered by protesters.

The Chengdu consulate – established in 1985 – represented US interests over a vast area of south-western China, including the autonomous region of Tibet, where there has been long-running pressure for independence.

The majority of the diplomatic mission’s more than 200 employees had been hired locally.

With its industry and growing services sector, Chengdu is seen by the US as providing opportunities for exports of agricultural products, cars and machinery.

1595639982 538 Singapore man admits being Chinese spy in US

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Media captionMen are filmed using a hose and closing rubbish bins at China’s consulate in Houston

After the mission’s closure the US will have four consulates in mainland China and an embassy in the capital Beijing. It also has a consulate in Hong Kong, the former British colony.

China lost its Houston mission last week, but still has four other consulates in the US and an embassy in the capital Washington DC.

Why is there tension between China and the US?

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US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping

There are a number of things at play. US officials have blamed China for the global spread of Covid-19. More specifically, President Trump has alleged, without evidence, that the virus originated from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan.

And, in unsubstantiated remarks, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said in March that the US military might have brought the virus to Wuhan.

The US and China have also been locked in a tariff war since 2018.

Mr Trump has long accused China of unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft, but in Beijing there is a perception that the US is trying to curb its rise as a global economic power.

The US has also imposed sanctions on Chinese politicians who it says are responsible for human rights violations against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. China is accused of mass detentions, religious persecution and forced sterilisation of Uighurs and others.

Beijing denies the allegations and has accused the US of “gross interference” in its domestic affairs.

What about Hong Kong?

China’s imposition of a sweeping security law there is also a source of tension with the US and the UK, which ruled the territory until 1997.

In response, the US last week revoked Hong Kong’s special trading status, which allowed it to avoid tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the US.

The US and UK see the security law as a threat to the freedoms Hong Kong has enjoyed under a 1984 agreement between China and the UK – before sovereignty reverted to Beijing.

The UK has angered China by outlining a route to UK citizenship for nearly three million Hong Kong residents.

China responded by threatening to stop recognising a type of British passport – BNO – held by many of those living in Hong Kong.

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Trump’s ex-Russia adviser Fiona Hill: US increasingly seen as ‘object of pity’

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“We are increasingly seen as an object of pity, including by our allies, because they are so shocked by what’s happening internally, how we’re eating ourselves alive with our divisions,” Fiona Hill, who was a witness in the Trump impeachment hearings, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Tuesday during the Citizen by CNN 2020 conference. “We’re the ones who are creating all this. It’s not the Russians or the Chinese or anyone else. We are doing this to ourselves.”

Asked whether the US is still seen as a model, Hill replied, “Unless we get our domestic act together, no.”

Her comments come on the heels of a recent Pew Research Center survey among 13 nations that found America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among its key allies, with part of the decline linked to the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What is really eroding our standing is what people are seeing happening here in the United States,” Hill, who was a national security adviser until she left the administration last summer, told CNN on Tuesday.

She said it’s the “bungled handling of Covid, on top of race relations, on top of our political polarization and the spectacles that we’re presenting to the outside world is what’s really pushing all of this.”

Hill said it would be “difficult” for NATO to survive under a second term of President Donald Trump, adding that the US needs to “revitalize our commitment to NATO.”

“Right now, most of our closest allies, not just partners and other major players, do not see the United States as leading. They see us as quite the contrary, as being so consumed with domestic problems that we really can’t do anything very much at all,” she said.

During congressional hearings in the 2019 impeachment inquiry, Hill warned that the Republican defense of the President — by peddling Ukraine conspiracy theories — was in danger of extending Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

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House hits pause on spending vote as Hill leaders resume talks

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Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to reach a deal to avert last-minute drama, though the two parties have squabbled for weeks over various funding and policy provisions in the continuing resolution, which would buy more time for negotiations on a broader spending deal.

“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, though he did not comment when asked if he’d spoken with Pelosi.

Without a spending agreement, top Democrats and Republicans would find themselves exactly where they don’t want to be just weeks before the election — perilously close to the Sept. 30 deadline with no agreement to keep the government open.

A deal had appeared to be coming together on Friday, including tens of billions of dollars in farmer payments that Republicans sought in exchange for $2 billion in pandemic-related nutritional assistance that Democrats wanted.

But last-minute objections to the trade relief — including Democratic concerns that the president is leveraging the money to boost his reelection chances — tanked the talks. House Democrats ultimately released stopgap legislation on Monday that lacked both provisions, drawing the ire of McConnell, who tweeted that it “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”

Both Pelosi and McConnell have been adamant about avoiding yet another government shutdown under President Donald Trump, and have supported a bill to extend funding through mid-December.

Senate Republicans on Monday said a lack of relief for farmers in the stopgap spending bill is problematic. But most stressed that it’s not worth shutting down the government in protest and said their side of the Capitol could still attempt to amend the bill.

“We could offer an amendment to try to put it back,” Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of the trade aid on Monday. “Or we could vote against the CR. But I’m for running the government. I’d prefer to keep the government running.”

Asked if Republicans would be willing to spend more on food-related assistance in exchange for the farm aid, Shelby said Tuesday: “I’d listen to reason on that.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, slammed the lack of assistance for farmers. But when asked if Republicans would shut down the government without it, he replied, “No.”

As of Friday, Democrats had dropped a request that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November. Democrats had also failed to secure $3.6 billion in election security grants.

The GOP demands for farm aid, however, have emerged as a sticking point for many rank-and-file Democrats, who have been increasingly irate about Trump’s blatant use of farm aid for political purposes. That includes a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis., last week, where Trump touted the taxpayer money as if it were a gift from him.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the No. 4 Senate Democrat and ranking member of the agriculture committee, this week criticized Trump’s use of the program as a “slush fund” and argued Republicans have been unwilling to agree to stricter guardrails around how the aid can be spent.

“This is not just a political fund for the election,” she said.

Helena Bottemiller Evich contributed to this report.

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Nicola Sturgeon Has Banned Household Mixing In Scotland And Claimed English Measures Do Not Go Far Enough

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has banned household mixing (Credit: PA)


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Nicola Sturgeon has announced a ban on households mixing in Scotland, claiming experts say the restrictions introduced in England by Boris Johnson do not go far enough.

The first minister said the Scottish government’s top experts had warned the curbs announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday would not make a big enough impact on Covid-19 transmission rates.

“The advice given to the Cabinet by the chief medical officer and the national clinical director is that this on its own will not be sufficient to bring the R number down,” she told the Scottish parliament.

“They stress that we must act, not just quickly and decisively, but also on a scale significant enough to have an impact on the spread of the virus, and they advise that we must take account of the fact that household interaction is a key driver of transmission.”

Mr Johnson has imposed a 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry from midnight on Thursday, as well as a legal requirement for those working in the sector, and in retail, to wear masks.

The PM stopped short of preventing different households from socialising with each other outside of local lockdown areas, but said people should work from home wherever possible.

Mrs Sturgeon said she planned to impose similar restrictions on pubs, bars and restaurants but would also go further.

“To that end, we intend as Northern Ireland did yesterday to also introduce nationwide additional restrictions on household gatherings, similar to those already in place in the west of Scotland,” she added.

Earlier in the Commons, Mr Johnson claimed the four nations of the UK were following “similar” restriction plans, despite Northern Ireland announcing on Monday that it would ban socialising between households.

This applies in places like pubs and restaurants as well as in people’s homes.

In Wales, people are not allowed to mix indoors with people outside their own household or support bubble, and meetings or gatherings indoors even within an extended household is limited to six people.

Reports suggest insiders were worried about the prospect of Mrs Sturgeon diverging and implementing a “circuit-breaker” of stricter measures – leaving the actions of Mr Johnson’s government further exposed should they fail.

Some members of the prime minister’s frontbench – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel – are believed to have lobbied for lighter intervention, while other cabinet ministers were in favour of a more drastic approach.

Mr Johnson told MPs: “I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March.  We’re not issuing a genuine instruction to stay at home, we will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.”

He added: “We will continue to act against local flare ups, working alongside councils and strengthening measures where necessary.”

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