The man, who has not yet been named by police, swung the knives in close proximity to officers in the moments before they opened fire, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The incident occurred shortly after 3pm on Monday when the suspect drove their car into the visa office of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China, located at Laguna Street and Geary Boulevard.
Sergeant Kathryn Winters told reporters that an “officer-involved shooting” had occurred and that the suspect had later died in hospital.
Witnesses reported that the driver shouted “Where’s the CCP (Chinese Communist Party)?” as he emerged from the blue Honda car, which had come to rest inside the lobby of the Chinese Consulate.
Tony Xin told KTVU-TV that he saw the driver had blood on his head and was holding two knives. Xin saw a security guard trying to detain the driver before he ran out of the building through the damaged doorway.
“I heard a really loud bang. I thought it was gunshots. I looked to the left and there was smoke,” Xin said. “I turned back and saw the guy take out a crossbow."
The San Francisco Chronicle also reported, via a source close to the case, that a crossbow had later been recovered from the scene.
The Chinese diplomatic post in San Francisco issued a statement on Monday saying it “strongly” condemned the “violent attack”, adding that it “reserves the right to pursue responsibility for the incident”.
The statement also demanded more details about what happened and asked that it be “dealt with seriously in accordance with the law.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the White House also condemned the incident and “all violence perpetrated against foreign diplomatic staff”.
A White House official, who was not authorised to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity, said US government officials had been in contact with Chinese foreign ministry officials, adding that investigators believe the driver was “acting with malign intent.”
The incident comes as San Francisco is preparing to host next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, a gathering of world leaders from Pacific Rim nations. President Joe Biden plans to attend but it’s not clear if Chinese President Xi Jinping will come.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin again called for an investigation at a daily briefing Tuesday without giving any details about damage to the consulate or injuries to staff and visitors.
“We strongly urge the US to launch a swift investigation and take effective measures to ensure the safety of Chinese diplomatic missions and personnel there in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” Mr Wang said, referring to the 1961 agreement governing relations between countries.
The San Francisco consulate has been targeted a number of times before. Among the most serious was a fire set by a Chinese man on New Year’s Day 2014 at the main entrance. It charred a section of the outside of the building.
The man, who was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, told authorities he was driven by voices he was hearing. He was sentenced to nearly three years in prison.