In the latest escalation of the back-and-forth between the world’s two largest economies, the United States has ordered China to shut down its consulate in Houston in 72 hours.
The US State Department said on Wednesday that the move was made in order to “protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.”
It’s unclear what intellectual property and private information were at risk and why only the Houston consulate is being targeted (there are four other Chinese consulates in the county). The US has frequently accused China of intellectual property theft, most recently alleging that Beijing is sponsoring hackers who are targeting labs developing Covid-19 vaccines.
“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,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a brief statement.
As you’d expect, China is none too happy with this development. On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called the move “outrageous and unjustified” as well as a “political provocation” that violates international law.
Wang urged the US to reconsider, threatening that if Washington continues down this “wrong path” then “China will react with firm countermeasures.
That would presumably mean closing one of the US consulates in China. The Global Times has already set up a poll listing some options, though reports have already gotten out indicating that the Wuhan consulate would be the likely candidate.
Chinese foreign ministry condemned the US for closing Chinese Consulate General in Houston and urged the US to immediately correct its mistakes. Otherwise, China will make a legitimate and necessary response. Which US consulate general in China is most likely to be closed?
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) July 22, 2020
Meanwhile, the Houston consulate evidently received some advance notice of the situation. On Tuesday, nearby residents noticed smoke coming from a courtyard of the building where a couple of people were apparently having a document bonfire.
The fire department was called in but not allowed inside.
This video shared with us by a viewer who lives next to the Consulate General of China in #Houston shows fire and activity in the courtyard of the building.
DETAILS SO FAR: https://t.co/2cOeKoap96 pic.twitter.com/0myxe6HIlC
— KPRC2Tulsi (@KPRC2Tulsi) July 22, 2020