In an unprecedented move, the United States government has ordered China to cease all operations and events at its consulate in Houston, Texas. The US State Department has said the consulate was directed to close "in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information" but has not elaborated on the details that led to the decision.
A spokesperson for the State Department in a separate statement has said
that China "has engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations" and that those "activities have increased markedly in scale and scope over the past few years."
Responding to the closure of its Houston consulate, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called it an "unprecedented escalation" by Washington. In a statement posted on its official social media, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said
the order to close the consulate was a "political provocation unilaterally launched by the US side, which seriously violates international law, basic norms governing international relations and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the US." The statement further said that "China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move which will sabotage China-US relations" and urged US to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision failing which China would make legitimate and necessary reactions, it said.
The Trump administration has informed that Chinese diplomats in Texas to clear out by Friday. Eye-witnesses have said that the Chinese officials were seen burning a trove of documents and other materials as soon as the decision to shut the consulate was made public. Smoke was seen coming out of the windows of the Chinese consulate in Houston.
Fire tenders at the spot were not immediately allowed to douse the fire at the Chinese consulate in Houston
It is not exactly known as to what was being burnt by the Chinese officials though it is expected that incriminating documents and records were being destroyed to cover its tracks in view of the allegations of IP theft, spying and influence operations by the US. It is alleged that Chinese consulate was burning documents/evidences as it did not allow the fire services to douse the fire.
Relations between the United States and China have plummeted during the last year due to trade war, origin and spread of Corona pandemic, China's human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
China has also been repeatedly accused of indulging in Intellectual Property (IP) theft of wide ranging technologies and products. Few estimates suggest that Chinese theft of US IP and trade secrets to be around $300bn-$600bn a year. In January this year, FBI had identified China as the biggest law enforcement threat to the United States and said that Beijing was seeking to steal American technology by “any means necessary”. FBI had arrested 24 people in 2019 in IP theft and spying on US assets-related cases and has already arrested 19 people in 2020.
The US move to shut one of China's consulates indicates that the Communist country has been caught involved in massive spying operations in the US and also in influencing incidents there. China has been accused of providing support to the recent riots that engulfed the US over the killing of an African American. China had hit back at the US for supporting Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations and instead had asked it to curb racism in its police force.