The U.S. ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, shut down because of the persistent problem of Bejing’s theft of American intellectual property, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.
“We are setting out clear expectations as to how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave,” the top U.S. diplomat said at a news conference in Denmark.
“And when they don’t, we are going to take actions that protect the American people, protect our security, our national security, and also protect our economy and jobs,” he said.
China was given until Friday afternoon to close the Houston facility, which has about 60 employees. The U.S. order was a sharp escalation of recent fraying relations between the United States, the world’s biggest economy, and No. 2 China.
The directive came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China is likely to get worse in the United States before it gets better.
The number of coronavirus cases is surging in the U.S. to an average of 66,000 a day over the last week, and the number of deaths, now topping 142,000, is rising again to more than 900 a day after slowing in recent weeks.
Pompeo said China’s Houston operations had a wide effect.
“It’s not just American intellectual property that is stolen,” he said. “It’s been European intellectual property, too, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs, good jobs for hard-working people all across Europe and America, stolen by the Chinese Communist Party.”
He said that President Trump “has said ‘enough.’ We’re not going to allow this to continue to happen.…”
One key Republican lawmaker, Senator Marco Rubio, said the Chinese consulate in Houston “is not a diplomatic facility. It is the central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States.
“This needed to happen” Rubio declared.
There are six other Chinese diplomatic missions in the U.S.: its embassy in Washington, an office at the United Nations and consulates in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.
While Trump has often praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, tensions between the two countries have increased in the midst of the pandemic and China’s security crackdown on protests in Hong Kong, which the U.S. and its Western allies have deplored. The U.S. has issued new travel rules for diplomats and also required some Chinese state news organizations to register as diplomatic entities.
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.
China strenuously objected to the U.S. order to close the Houston consulate and threatened retaliation.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the U.S. directive “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, but local authorities did not enter the diplomatic facility.