The State Department said Wednesday that it has ordered China to shutter its consulate in Houston “in order to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.”
“The Vienna Convention states diplomats must ‘respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State’ and ‘have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State,’” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “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.”
The Houston Chronicle reported that individuals inside the consulate told Houston police that they would be evicted from the building by 4 p.m. on Friday.
In a statement on the closure order, a State Department spokesperson accused China of engaging “for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations throughout the United States against U.S. government officials and American citizens.”
“These activities have increased markedly in scale and scope over the past few years,” the spokesperson continued. “[Chinese] officials have interfered in our domestic politics, stolen U.S. intellectual property, coerced our business leaders, threatened families of Chinese Americans residing in China, and more.”
Houston’s police department said Tuesday that it “responded to a meet the firefighter call” Tuesday evening at the consulate, where smoke could be seen coming from the building’s courtyard area. Houston police said its officers were not allowed inside the consulate.
The Houston Chronicle, citing a Houston police official, reported that witnesses saw paper being burned outside the consulate, which is located in the city’s Montrose neighborhood. FOX 26 Houston reported that police told the station Chinese officials were burning classified documents before their eviction from the building Friday afternoon.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, speaking a daily news briefing in Beijing, called the American order to close the consulate 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 in comments that were reported by the Associated Press.
International tensions between China and the U.S. have ramped up steadily in recent months after earlier trade negotiations between Beijing and President Donald Trump’s administration.
The U.S. president has blamed the China for not doing more to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, around the world. Trump has at times called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” remarks that many have characterized as racist.
The administration has also meted out a series of punishments for Chinese actions unrelated to the coronavirus — sanctioning Chinese officials over their internment of Muslims and encroachment in Hong Kong, revealing plans to cancel visas for thousands of Chinese students in the U.S., and restricting access for Chinese journalists.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has frequently criticized Trump’s posture toward China, and Trump is eager to appear tough on Beijing ahead of November’s general election. Virtually all public polling shows him trailing Biden badly in the race for the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.