The U.S. State Department has ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close by Friday. Hours after the order was issued Tuesday, witnesses reported papers being burned in the courtyard, according to several media outlets. Firefighters were called, but were denied access to the property.
“All I know, it’s illegal to have open burning in the city of Houston like that,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told the Houston Chronicle. “But it’s a sovereign country, and we can’t get access into those consulates, so we’re limited in what we can do.”
“We have directed the closure of PRC [People’s Republic of China] Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
Ortagus added that the U.S. “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 behaviour.”
Ortagus also pointed to the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, under which states “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of a host country.
In a separate statement, the State Department accused China of engaging “in massive illegal spying and influence operations”, interfering in “domestic politics” as well as having “coerced our business leaders, threatened families of Chinese Americans residing in China, and more”.
The Chinese government strongly condemned the closure and warned of countermeasures against the U.S. if the decision was not reversed.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the closure “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 at a news briefing in Beijing, the Associated Press reports.
Although it is unclear as to what countermeasures might be implemented, the U.S. has far more people working in China than China has in the U.S. The Chinese could respond by ordering those workers out of the country.