The United States has ordered the Chinese consulate in the southwestern U.S. city of Houston, Texas to shut down.
A statement issued early Wednesday morning by State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the order to close the consulate was issued “in order to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.”
Referencing the abbreviation of China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China, Ortagus said the United States “will not tolerate the PRC's violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC's unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior.”
China has until Friday to shut down the consulate.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters the order to close the Houston consulate “is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China.” He accused the United States of harassing Chinese diplomatic and consular staff, as well as “intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices” and even going so far as to detain them.
Wang warned that if the Trump administration did not have a change of heart, China would retaliate.
Hours after the order was issued, local Houston television station KPRC broadcast footage of smoke billowing from a courtyard inside the consulate, with fire trucks stationed on the street outside. Houston police said consular staffers were burning documents in open containers in preparation of being evicted.
Relations between the world’s two largest economies have steadily worsened in recent months over a number of issues, including trade, technology and the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong apparently aimed at squelching pro-democracy activists.
Two Chinese nationals were charged Tuesday with hacking hundreds of entities around the world, including U.S. biotech companies developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, while working with China’s security services.