The Trump administration has ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston by the end of this week, a severe diplomatic step that is a response to a surge in Chinese espionage in this country.

Washington directed the closure of the consulate “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Wednesday. Ortagus did not cite a specific incident that prompted the move, but she raised accusations that China violated U.S. sovereignty. The closure was announced after a sweeping indictment was unsealed in federal court in Washington state outlining years of Chinese state-directed hacking and theft of intellectual property affecting victims across the United States and in other countries.

“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. President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in U.S.-China relations,” Ortagus said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

China has vowed to retaliate.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said China was notified Tuesday that it would have to close the consulate within 72 hours. In a regular daily news briefing, he described the action as an “unprecedented escalation” and said China would “react with firm countermeasures” if the United States does not revoke the decision.

China began preparing to leave the consulate on Tuesday evening by burning classified documents.

Police say a fire that was reported at the Chinese Consulate in Houston Tuesday evening was the result of classified documents being burned.

The call about a fire at the building located in the 3400 block Montrose came in around 8:20 p.m.

Houston fire and police departments responded to the scene but were not allowed entry into the building.

Because it is a consulate, it falls under Chinese sovereignty allowing them to deny anyone access.

Houston police tell FOX 26 that they were burning classified documents because they are being evicted from the building on Friday at 4 p.m..

It appears that there has been a massive surge in China’s industrial spying efforts in the past six months, focused on coronavirus research.

A New York Times report cites David R. Stilwell, who oversees policy for East Asia and the Pacific at the State Department. He noted that China attempted thefts have increased in the past six months and that the “Houston consul general, the top Chinese official there, and two other diplomats were recently caught having used false identification to escort Chinese travelers to the gate area of a charter flight in George Bush Intercontinental Airport. He described the Houston consulate, which he said “has a history of engaging in subversive behavior,” as the “epicenter” of research theft by the Chinese military in the United States.”

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, a senior member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed with Stilwell’s comment.

“The CCP’s recent targeting of U.S. coronavirus vaccine research underscores the threat of this consulate’s malign activity in Houston, a biomedical research and technology hub itself. I am hopeful this action will deal a significant blow to the CCP’s spy network in the U.S. and send a clear message that their widespread espionage campaigns will no longer go unchecked,” he said in part in a statement.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is the acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted that China’s Houston consulate was a “massive spy center,” and that closing it was “long overdue.”

I am sensing that the relationship between the US and China will feature more decoupling and document burning than had been previously anticipated.

 

 
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