The U.S. abruptly ordered the closure of China’s consulate in Houston, Texas on Tuesday night – leading to Chinese diplomats burning documents and papers in trash cans in the courtyard of the building.
The State Department claimed the immediate action was needed to ‘protect American intellectual property’ and other private information of American citizens.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed in a tweet Wednesday morning that ‘China’s Houston consulate is a massive spy center, forcing it to close is long overdue.’
‘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.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration is taking action to halt long-running intellectual property theft, noting indictments announced Tuesday against two Chinese individuals accused of hacking.
‘President Trump has said ‘Enough, we’re not going to allow this to continue to happen,” he said while on an official visit to Copenhagen.
Although he did not mention it, the move follows the revocation by Donald Trump of Hong Kong’s special trading status after China passed a sweeping national security law undermining free speech and protests rights in the former British colony after a year of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Early Wednesday, China strongly condemned the closure of the consulate.
Following the State Department direction, reports and video emerged of documents and papers being burned in the courtyard of the consulate in what appeared to be trashcans
The apparent cellphone video, from above the consulate, showed small fires in the courtyard and smoke wafting up from the area in the center of property
Local responders claim they were not permitted entry into the consulate to respond to the fire
The State Department announced Wednesday that it ordered the immediate closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas on Tuesday ‘in order to protect American intellectual property’ and other private information of American citizens
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that the Houston consulate ‘is a massive spy center’ and claimed its closure ‘is long overdue’
The move marks a significant escalation in tensions between Beijing and Washington, although Beijing did not immediately retaliate.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the action ‘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 during a daily news briefing in Beijing.
He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse this move and others taken against China.
Besides its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. has five consulates in mainland China – in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.
Firefighters responded to reports of papers being burned on the consulate grounds Tuesday night but were barred entry, local Houston media reported.
In a reflection of China´s economic importance, a Houston business group expressed regret at the announcement, saying the consulate has been important in building trade, investment and cultural ties. It noted that the Houston consulate was China´s first in the U.S. when it opened in 1979.
The Greater Houston Partnership expressed hope that China would take immediate steps to address intellectual property and cybersecurity concerns. ‘We look forward to the reopening of the consulate in Houston once these concerns are addressed,’ it said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Yorba Linda, California on Thursday to deliver a speech on U.S.-China relations at the Nixon Library.
Pompeo is expected to step up Washington’s attacks against China at a venue whose significance will not be lost on Beijing.
It was President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing that ended 25 years of diplomatic isolation for China from the U.S. and led to full diplomatic relations resuming in 1979. It also started an era of growing trade between the two countries, which itself was a key to China’s dramatic economic growth, particularly since the 1990s.
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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin (pictured) warned of ‘firm countermeasures’ if the move is not reversed
Police were told that occupants of the consulate have until 4:00 p.m. Friday to vacate the property.
Houston police said late Tuesday night in a tweet that officers responded to ‘a meet the firefighter’ call at the Chinese Consulate building.
‘About 8:25 pm on Tuesday, our officers responded to a meet the firefighter call to the China Consulate General in Houston building at 3417 Montrose Blvd,’ the police department posted on its Twitter.
‘Smoke was observed in an outside courtyard area. Officers were not granted access to enter the building,’ it continued, adding, ‘Since HPD is not a lead agency in the matter, no other information is being released by our department at this time.’
The closure raises questions over whether and how China will retaliate.
Consular closures are traditionally meet with a reciprocal move.
Wang, the foreign ministry spokesperson, claimed that U.S. diplomats in China engaged in infiltration activities.
He also accused the U.S. of opening Chinese diplomatic pouches without permission multiple times, confiscating Chinese items for official use and imposing restrictions on Chinese diplomats in the U.S. in October 2019 and again in June.
The move from the U.S. comes as tensions between the U.S. and China are on the rise as President Donald Trump continues to take action against Beijing in the form of sanctions and verbal attacks – like blaming the country for the coronavirus pandemic
He also said that the Chinese Embassy in Washington has received bomb and death threats, and accused the U.S. government of fanning hatred against China.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have been on the rise as President Donald Trump, his reelection prospects damaged by the coronavirus outbreak, has blamed Beijing repeatedly for the pandemic.
He also has brought fresh action against China, including sanctions and executive orders, almost every day against what Trump has called the rising Asian superpower’s exploitation of America.
Already this week, the Commerce Department has sanctioned 11 Chinese companies over alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and the Justice Department said two Chinese stole intellectual property and targeted companies developing coronavirus vaccines.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, saying U.S.-China relations face their most severe challenge since diplomatic ties were established in 1979, asked recently if the two nations would be able to stay the course after a more than four-decade voyage.
TRUMP AND CHINA: THE ROMANCE THAT SOURED
President Donald Trump has spent most of his presidency praising Chinese President Xi Jinping, claiming they have a friendship and asserting relations between Washington and Beijing are the best they’ve been in years.
During his campaign, Trump promised that he would bring jobs back to American that were previously moved overseas to China – and after taking office his administration began hostile trade actions, including tariffs and sanctions on goods from China.
But John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for 17 months, revealed in a bombshell book that Trump has also asked Xi to help him win reelection in November while both attended a 2019 summit dinner.
In April 2017, just three months after Trump took office, he welcomed Xi to his Mar-a-Lago resort for their first summit, which spanned two days at what Trump calls his ‘Southern White House.’
Trump and Xi have held bilateral talks four other times – During the G20 Summit in Germany in July 2017, for a State visit to China in November 2017, for the G20 Summit in Argentina in November 2018 and most recently in June 2019 for the G20 Summit in Japan.
The two have also spoken on the phone several times.
Bolton claimed in his memoir, ‘The Room Where it Happened,’ that Trump, on two occasions, went as far to encourage Xi to employ concentration camps for Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.
Earlier this year, Washington and Beijing struck a trade deal. The Phase 1 deal includes the U.S. cutting some tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for China pledging to purchase American farm, energy and manufactured goods.
‘We love each other.’ Donald Trump spoke warmly of Xi Jinping as recently as January – and had him as his guest at Mar-a-Lago in April 2017
The relationship between the two has recently soured as Trump has blamed China for concealing the severity of the coronavirus threat and insists the ‘China Virus’ – as he calls it – was exacerbated by some sort of ‘coverup’ by Chinese officials.
At the same time Trump has issued praise of Xi and China for helping in stopping the pandemic, his administration has also attacked Beijing, issuing sanctions, trade restrictions, tariffs and weighing travel bans for members of the Chinese Communist Party.
Tensions reached a precipice Tuesday evening after the State Department ordered Chinese diplomats vacate China’s consulate in Houston, Texas.
But this year has seen a dramatic change both of tone and substance. Trump started by praising Xi and China for its handling of coronavirus – but as it exploded across the U.S. and both the economy and his poll numbers cratered he has changed his tune dramatically. Here is how 2020 went from ‘love’ to closing Beijing’s consulate:
January 21, 2020: ‘He’s for China, I’m for the U.S., but other than that we love each other. Our relationship with China has probably never been better. We went through a very rough patch, but it has never, ever been better.’
January 22, 2020: ’One of the many great things about our just signed giant Trade Deal with China is that it will bring both the USA & China closer together in so many other ways. Terrific working with President Xi, a man who truly loves his country. Much more to come!’
February 7: ‘Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus.’
February 29, 2020: ‘China seems to be making tremendous progress. Their numbers are way down. … I think our relationship with China is very good. We just did a big trade deal.’
May 14, 2020: ‘Right now I don’t want to speak to him… We could cut off the whole relationship.’
July 14, 2020: Trump signs executive order placing more tariffs on China and ending special status for Hong Kong after Beijing imposed new security laws on the semi-autonomous region.
July 21, 2020: State Department orders Chinese diplomats and personnel to vacate consulate in Houston, Texas.
July 16, 2020: Trump administration draws up executive order banning all 92 million members of the Chinese Communist Party from traveling to the U.S.
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