The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the closure of its Houston, Texas consulate an “unprecedented escalation”.
This is yet another move in what seems to be the forming of a modern-day cold war.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information”. Specifics as to what caused the immediate closure has not been stated.
There has been considerable tension between China and the United States. After President Trump’s November 2016 victory came with a vow to bridge a growing trade gap, which led to a full trade escalation that included tariffs issued from both countries. The trade war was paralleled by a race to 5G and the banishment of certain Chinese company electronics, like Huawei.
In a statement from the State Department said that China “has engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations” and that those “activities have increased markedly in scale and scope over the past few years.”
Relations have continued deteriorating with both the coronavirus pandemic in which President Trump has routinely called the “China Virus” stating it should have “Never left China” and the US criticism of China’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Adding to the tension is this unexpected consulate closure in Houston.
On late Tuesday Houston police responded to reports of smoke in the courtyard outside the consulate, located on Montrose Boulevard, in the city’s Midtown area.
Local media shared a video of what appeared to be officials inside the compound burning documents.
In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said “political provocation unilaterally launched by the US side, which seriously violates international law, basic norms governing international relations and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the US.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the decision and urged the United States to withdraw it.
The statement goes on to say “shifting the blame to China with stigmatization and unwarranted attacks against China’s social system, harassing Chinese diplomatic and consular staff in the US, intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices, even detaining them without cause.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently in Europe, and although he did not comment on the specifics he did state that “our clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave.”
“And when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect the American people, protect our security, our national security, and also protect our economy and jobs,”
Many politicians weighed in, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that closing China’s consulate in Houston “needed to happen,” and claimed it is a “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies.”
No word if the Chinese government will counter with US consulate closures of their own.