US-Chinese relations, already tense over the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, deteriorated once again Wednesday as Washington ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston within 72 hours.
China slammed the US move, which came one day after the unveiling of a US indictment targeting two Chinese nationals for allegedly hacking hundreds of companies worldwide and seeking to steal virus vaccine research.
“We’re setting our clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Denmark.
“And when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect American people, protect our security, our national security, and also protect our economy and jobs,” Pompeo told reporters.
“Now that building must close & the spies have 72 hours to leave or face arrest,” tweeted Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the consulate was ordered shut “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”
The State Department said China has engaged in massive spying and influence operations throughout the United States for years. “These activities have increased markedly in scale and scope over the past few years,” it said.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the order to close the consulate was an “outrageous and unjustified move which will sabotage China-US relations.”
“China urges the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, or China will definitely take a proper and necessary response,” Wang said.
Before the closure order was announced, firefighters and police were called late Tuesday to the consulate building over reports that documents were being burned in trash cans in the courtyard, according to local media.
The Houston police force said smoke was observed, but officers “were not granted access to enter the building.”
The Chinese consulate in Houston was opened in 1979 — the first in the year the United States and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations, according to its website.
Writer: AFP | Bangkok Post