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Police officers continue their investigations after a vehicle crashed into the Chinese consulate in San Francisco on Monday afternoon US time. Photo: AFP

China ‘strongly condemns’ car attack on San Francisco consulate, urges US to ‘seriously handle’ matter

  • Beijing has made ‘solemn representations’ to the US side after a car crashed into the Chinese consulate in San Francisco
  • Both sides need to proceed with caution on the matter, so that efforts to set up a Xi-Biden summit in the US are not scuttled, observers say
Beijing has urged Washington to “seriously handle” an incident where a car smashed through the front of the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, coming to rest in the lobby of its visa office.

The attack came amid growing expectations for a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping when the Californian city hosts the annual Apec summit next month.

San Francisco police said an investigation was underway but gave no details about the identity of the driver, who died after being shot at the scene.

The Chinese consulate said it “strongly condemns this violent attack and reserves the right to pursue accountability for the incident”.

It had made “solemn representations” to the US side, requesting a prompt investigation and serious punishment in accordance with the law, the statement added.


US police fatally shoot driver who crashes car into Chinese consulate in San Francisco

US police fatally shoot driver who crashes car into Chinese consulate in San Francisco

Observers said both sides would need to proceed with caution as this kind of unexpected incident, if not handled properly, might cast doubts on efforts to stabilise ties and scuttle efforts for an imminent Xi-Biden meeting.

The talks are expected to take place when regional leaders gather for the November 11-17 Apec summit, although neither side has officially confirmed this. The two leaders last spoke in person last November, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday repeated the statement from the San Francisco consulate. The attack on the consulate’s visa office had posed “serious threats to the lives” of diplomatic staff and others, and had caused “serious damage”, spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

San Francisco police confirmed they had shot the driver after being alerted to the vehicle having crashed into the visa office.

“Officers entered, made contact with the suspect and an officer-involved shooting occurred,” San Francisco police sergeant Kathryn Winters told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

“This is an open and active investigation and the San Francisco Police Department is currently working in coordination with investigators from the US State Department,” Winters said.

Unverified footage on social media showed a blue Honda sedan inside the consulate lobby, with officers pointing their weapons at the driver’s door as people streamed out into the street.

A witness told the San Francisco Standard that the driver shouted “Where’s the CCP,” using the acronym for the Chinese Communist Party.

Neither side would want to unduly play up the incident, analysts said, amid growing signs that their long-troubled ties were on the mend despite deep-seated geopolitical and ideological differences.

The attack came as a bipartisan delegation of senators led by Chuck Schumer met top Chinese officials, including Xi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and commerce chief Wang Wentao in Beijing, as part of the first congressional visit to China since 2019.

“So far, neither side is interested in unnecessarily playing up the isolated incident, likely because both Beijing and Washington find re-establishing dialogue to be a high priority,” Sung Wen-ti, a political scientist with the Australian National University, said.

“The story of US-China communicating and working out differences is the story Beijing wishes to highlight.”

Xi met the US delegation on Monday afternoon Beijing time, his first talks with congressional leaders in eight years.

It was also the latest high-level meeting since such exchanges were resumed in recent months, with four cabinet-level US officials visiting China over the summer – including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.


Chinese President Xi Jinping meets top US senator, says China-US ties impact 'destiny of mankind'

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets top US senator, says China-US ties impact 'destiny of mankind'
A possible meeting between Xi and Biden was high on the agenda when Wang Yi, who is also China’s top diplomat, met US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Malta last month, sources told the Post earlier.
Beijing has yet to confirm whether Xi will travel to the US for the Apec summit. But to facilitate such a visit, it has demanded that Washington avoid alleged provocative acts, such as the shooting down in February of what it said was a Chinese spy balloon and moves to promote ties with Taiwan, sources said.

Li Mingjiang, associate professor of international relations at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the consulate attack appeared to be a random incident that should not be allowed to affect the fragile bilateral ties in the same way the balloon saga did.

Bilateral ties descended into a crisis over the alleged surveillance balloon – prompting Blinken to postpone an upcoming visit to China – and put on hold a rare rapprochement after Xi and Biden’s meeting in Bali.

“While it remains unclear who the perpetrator is and what the motive is, it is most likely an individual act, the nature of which is fairly different from that of the balloon incident,” Li said.

“Signs are becoming clearer that a meeting between the leaders of the two countries is very likely to materialise and I don’t think such a random, small incident will have any major impact on bilateral ties and the arrangements for the summit.”

But for Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, China’s response was already a “high-profile, strong protest”.

“The incident is another serious blow to the almost fully and consistently tense US-China relations,” he said.

China, US need not go head to head, Xi Jinping tells American senators

However, he agreed that the incident’s impact on overall bilateral relations – which has seen a mix of continued rivalry and the resumption of high-level talks – was likely to be moderate.

Unless it was handled poorly, “the Chinese government might not allow the incident to interfere with the overall situation too much,” he said.

Li said given the fragility of ties and the amount of public attention generated by the incident, both sides would still need to tread cautiously in the lead-up to the hoped-for bilateral summit. “Ties remain fragile and vulnerable to uncertainties and accidents, despite some degree of improvements in recent weeks.”

The attack might also raise an alarm in terms of US security arrangements for the Chinese leader if he were to visit, he added.

This is not the first time that the Chinese consulate in San Francisco has been the target of attacks, Li said.

Its main entrance was set on fire in January 2014, with US investigators saying it was an arson attack and unlikely to have been a terrorist act. Six years earlier, in March 2008, a security gate at the rear of the building was similarly set alight by a group of people who poured a combustible liquid over it. There were no casualties in either incident.