US orders closure of China’s consulate in Houston

The United States has ordered the closure of China’s consulate in the city of Houston, a move Beijing called “an unprecedented escalation” that will sabotage relations between the two countries.

In a statement on Wednesday, Morgan Ortagus, spokeswoman for the US Department of State, said Washington directed the consulate’s closure “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information”.

She did not elaborate further. 

In Beijing, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said the US gave the Chinese side a deadline of three days to close the mission in the Texas city.

“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 Wenbin told a regular news briefing.

“We urge the US to immediately revoke this erroneous decision. Should it insist on going down this wrong path, China will react with firm countermeasures,” he said.

China “strongly condemns” the “outrageous and unjustified move, which will sabotage China-US relations”, he added.

Washington’s order comes as the two countries clash on a wide range of issues, from trade to the coronavirus pandemic and China’s policies in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea.

The US has long accused China of stealing intellectual property and technology, an allegation that is one of the core issues in the trade war between the world’s top two economies. Beijing denies the accusation, but committed to addressing some of the US complaints in the first phase of a trade deal signed between the two countries in January.

The commitment includes following through on previous pledges to eliminate any pressure for foreign companies to transfer technology to Chinese firms as a condition of market access.

There are five Chinese consulates in the US, as well as an embassy in Washington. The Chinese consulate in Houston was opened in 1979 – the first in the year the US and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations, according to its website.

Wenbin said the consulate was operating normally but did not reply to questions about US media reports in Houston on Tuesday night that documents were being burned in a courtyard at the consulate.

The Twitter feed of the Houston police force said officers observed from the courtyard but “were not granted access to enter the building”.

Besides its embassy in Beijing, the US has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.

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