US asks China to shut down Houston consulate in 72 hours
BEIJING/WASHINGTON (CHINA/US) – The United States has given 72 hours to China to shut down its consulate in Houston with the prevailing accusations of spying.
The US State Department said on Wednesday that this move was initiated “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”
President Donald Trump said it was “always possible” that other Chinese missions could be closed too. “We thought there was a fire in one that we did close. I guess they were burning documents, or burning papers, and I wonder what that’s all about.”
Two US government officials revealed that they had information that documents were being burned there.
However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the consulate was functioning normally.
Spokeswoman Hua Chunying wrote in a tweet, that the Chinese Embassy in Washington had received “bomb and death threats” because of “smears & hatred” spurred by the US government.
The thought of shutting the US consulate in the city of Wuhan as a reply had passed the Communist Party rulers in Beijing, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
US-based China experts said Beijing could think of targetting more important consulates in Hong Kong, Shanghai or Guangzhou, which could affect American businesses.
Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of US national intelligence, suggested that the United States could also shut down the Chinese consulate in tech-heavy San Francisco.
The Houston move comes as the US gears up for the presidential election in November, with a tough stand taken by both Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, towards China.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked again and again about accusations about Chinese theft of US and European intellectual property, which according to him, were affecting “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Stephen Biegun, the State Department’s diplomat, told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “longstanding areas of concern” were intellectual property theft and commercial espionage, in addition to how US diplomats, exporters, investors and media in China were treated unevenly and subjected to abuse by China’s security services.
A Chinese diplomat, on condition of anonymity, refuted the spying allegations and said the Houston mission was seen as any other Chinese consulates in the United States – issuing visas, and promoting visits and businesses.
‘RACE TO THE BOTTOM’
U.S.-China ties have deteriorated sharply this year with wide-ranging issues such as the coronavirus, telecoms-gear maker Huawei, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and their suppression of Hong Kong.
A source said that China was mulling over closing the US consulate in Wuhan. The State Department had withdrawn staff and their families early this year due to the coronavirus outbreak, that originally emerged in the city.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to the same. Wang said that Chinese diplomats and consular staff have been put through mental turmoil by the US government for some time and Chinese students were intimidated as well.
He added that the United States had come in the way of China’s diplomatic missions, including intercepting diplomatic pouches. The State Department did not respond to the Chinese accusations.
(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field.