China says US orders it to close its consulate in Houston

U.S. orders China to close its consulate in Houston amid rising tension

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A firetruck is positioned outside the Chinese Consulate Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Houston. Authorities responded to reports of a fire at the consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The U.S. on Wednesday ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, citing efforts to protect American intellectual property.

The move marks the latest in a series of increasing escalation between Washington and Beijing over trade, human rights, technology and national security.

While the Trump administration did not provide details behind the reason it is closing the Chinese consulate in Houston, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed to action being taken by the White House to end alleged intellectual property theft.

SEE ALSO: Rubio: Chinese Consulate in Houston is a ‘front’ for ‘massive spy operation’

“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,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

One day prior, the Justice Department accused the Chinese government of running an elaborate cyberhacking operation aimed at stealing secrets from Western companies, including U.S. businesses racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that began in China six months ago.

Federal prosecutors claimed that two Chinese hackers were working with the government in Beijing to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and secrets through a yearslong operation that has recently targeted biotechnology companies, including one in Maryland and another in Massachusetts.

“President Trump has said, ‘Enough, we’re not going to allow this to continue to happen,’ ” Mr. Pompeo said while on an official visit to Copenhagen.

Back in Houston, firefighters responded to calls of papers being set ablaze on the consulate’s property but were denied entry to the grounds, local news reported.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, on Wednesday said the Chinese consulate in Houston is basically a front for a massive spy operation after the State Department ordered the consulate to close.

“So this consulate is basically a front. … It’s kind of [the] central node of a massive spy operation — commercial espionage, defense espionage — also influence agents to try to influence Congress,” Mr. Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox Business Network.

Mr. Rubio said the closure was “long overdue” and predicted that China would close one of the United States’ facilities in China as a response.

China has condemned the U.S.’ move to shut down the consulate.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a news conference Wednesday that “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.”

He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse itself. Besides its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.

At the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, the U.S. in January closed its consulate in Wuhan and has since decided to not reopen the facility.

• David Sherfinski contributed to this story, which is also based on wire reports.

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