The U.S. abruptly ordered the closure of China’s consulate in Houston, Texas on Tuesday night – leading to Chinese diplomats burning documents and papers in trash cans in the courtyard of the building.
The State Department claims the immediate action is needed to ‘protect American intellectual property’ and other private information of American citizens.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed in a tweet Wednesday morning that ‘China’s Houston consulate is a massive spy center.’
‘[F]orcing it to close is long overdue,’ he added.
China strongly condemned the move as the consulate was informed of the decision Tuesday amid a series of recent escalation in tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the action ‘an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage relations between the two countries.’
‘The unilateral closure of China’s consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China,’ Wang said during a daily news briefing in Beijing.
He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse this move and others taken against China.
The State Department ordered the immediate closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas on Tuesday ‘in order to protect American intellectual property’ and other private information of American citizens
Following the direction that all personnel must vacate by Friday afternoon, reports and video emerged of documents and papers being burned in the courtyard of the consulate in what appeared to be trashcans
Firefighters responded to the scene at the consulate in Houston
Local responders claim they were not permitted entry into the property to respond to the fire
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that the Houston consulate ‘is a massive spy center’ and claimed its closure ‘is long overdue’
Besides its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. has five consulates in mainland China – in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.
Firefighters responded to reports of papers being burned on the consulate grounds Tuesday night but were barred entry, local Houston media reported.
The U.S., in a brief statement, did not provide any details on why the consulate in Texas was specifically targeted.
‘The United States will not tolerate [China´s] violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people,’ the statement, attributed to State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, said.
‘[J]ust as we have not tolerated [its] unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,’ the statement continued.
The move, however, could be symbolic considering the Houston property was the first Chinese consulate established in 1979 after the U.S. and China established diplomatic relations.
Houston media reports said authorities responded to reports of a fire at the Chinese Consulate. Witnesses said people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, the Houston Chronicle reported, citing police.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin (pictured) warned of ‘firm countermeasures’ if the move is not reversed
Police were told that occupants of the consulate have until 4:00 p.m. Friday to vacate the property.
Houston police said late Tuesday night in a tweet that officers responded to ‘a meet the firefighter’ call at the Chinese Consulate building.
‘About 8:25 pm on Tuesday, our officers responded to a meet the firefighter call to the China Consulate General in Houston building at 3417 Montrose Blvd,’ the police department posted on its Twitter.
‘Smoke was observed in an outside courtyard area. Officers were not granted access to enter the building,’ it continued, adding, ‘Since HPD is not a lead agency in the matter, no other information is being released by our department at this time.’
In retaliation threats, Wang claims that U.S. diplomats in China engaged in infiltration activities.
He also accused the U.S. of opening Chinese diplomatic pouches without permission multiple times, confiscating Chinese items for official use and imposing restrictions on Chinese diplomats in the U.S. in October 2019 and again in June.
The move from the U.S. comes as tensions between the U.S. and China are on the rise as President Donald Trump continues to take action against Beijing in the form of sanctions and verbal attacks – like blaming the country for the coronavirus pandemic
He also said that the Chinese Embassy in Washington has received bomb and death threats, and accused the U.S. government of fanning hatred against China.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have been on the rise as President Donald Trump, his reelection prospects damaged by the coronavirus outbreak, has blamed Beijing repeatedly for the pandemic.
He also has brought fresh action against China, including sanctions and executive orders, almost every day against what Trump has called the rising Asian superpower’s exploitation of America.
Already this week, the Commerce Department has sanctioned 11 Chinese companies over alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and the Justice Department said two Chinese stole intellectual property and targeted companies developing coronavirus vaccines.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to continue the attacks Thursday in a speech on U.S.-China relations at the Nixon Library in California.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, saying U.S.-China relations face their most severe challenge since diplomatic ties were established in 1979, asked recently if the two nations would be able to stay the course after a more than four-decade voyage.