The head of the Chinese Consulate in Houston won’t commit to closing the office — a direct threat of defiance to the State Department’s demand that it be shut down by Friday.
In a wide-ranging interview with POLITICO, Cai Wei, the Chinese Consul General in Houston, said China is protesting the closure order and his office will remain open “until further notice.”
“Today we are still operating normally, so we will see what will happen tomorrow,” he said, declining to elaborate further.
Cai said Beijing has asked the U.S. to rescind its Tuesday order to close the consulate, which China argues runs afoul of international agreements governing diplomatic relations.
“We think that the demand from the U.S. side … is not according to the Vienna convention on consular affairs and also is not according to international practice or [diplomatic] norms, and it violates the China-U.S. consular treaty,” Cai said. “We prepared for the worst scenario but we’ve also launched a strong protest … so we urge the U.S. to abandon and revoke that wrong decision.”
Cai’s remarks came as the South China Morning Post reported that Beijing is likely to close a U.S. consulate in the the southwestern city of Chengdu, which is strategically important for the U.S. given its interest in Tibet. But the head of the Houston consulate declined to comment on how Beijing should respond to the order to close his office.
Later Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to give a speech on China that is expected to include a call for the Chinese people to pressure or transform the ruling Communist Party, according to the Wall Street Journal. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what consequences it can impose if China refuses to close the consulate, which has been opened since 1979.
U.S. officials have accused the Chinese Consulate in Houston of being a part of a Communist Party espionage operation in the U.S. On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, tweeted that the office is the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States.”
Cai rejected those claims, saying that the consulate’s activities are in compliance with international agreements and do not differ from the actions of other nations, including the U.S. And he dismissed local news reports that consular staff were burning classified documents in the compound’s courtyard on Tuesday, after getting word of the State Department’s order.
“We have never done this,” he said, referring to espionage. “What we have done is very legal and follows the law and normal practice.”