US closes Chinese consulate in Houston, drawing protest from Beijing
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US closes Chinese consulate in Houston, drawing protest from Beijing

China warns move will ‘sabotage relations’ between the two countries; State Department says Washington will not tolerate ‘violations of our sovereignty’ or intimidation

In this image made from video, a fire truck is seen outside the Chinese consulate in Houston, July 21, 2020. (KTRK via AP)
In this image made from video, a fire truck is seen outside the Chinese consulate in Houston, July 21, 2020. (KTRK via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — The US said Wednesday that it has ordered China to close its consulate in Houston “to protect American intellectual property” and the private information of Americans.

China strongly condemned the move, the latest in a series of steps by the Trump administration as it ratchets up pressure on the world’s second-largest economy over trade, technology, human rights and security.

Firefighters responded to reports of papers being burned on the consulate grounds Tuesday night but were barred entry, according to Houston news media reports.

The US, in a brief statement, did not provide any details on why the consulate in Texas was targeted.

“The United States will not tolerate (China’s) violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated (its) unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,” said the statement, which was attributed to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

The consulate was informed of the decision Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, calling it “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 at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

He warned of firm countermeasures if the US does not reverse itself. 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.

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.

Police were told that occupants were given until 4 p.m. Friday to leave the property, the Chronicle said.

Houston police said in a tweet that officers responded to “a meet the firefighter” call at the Chinese Consulate building at 3417 Montrose Blvd. The tweet said smoke was observed in an outdoor courtyard area, and that officers were not allowed to enter the building.

Wang accused the US of opening Chinese diplomatic pouches without permission multiple times, confiscating Chinese items for official use and imposing restrictions on Chinese diplomats in the US last October and again in June. He also said that US diplomats in China engage in infiltration activities.

“If we compare the two, it is only too evident which is engaged in interference, infiltration and confrontation,” Wang said.

He also said that the Chinese Embassy in Washington has received bomb and death threats, and accused the US government of fanning hatred against China.

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