In a Wednesday press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin described the consulate closure notice as an act of “American political provocation against China” and said China would respond with “necessary, legitimate actions” if the closure order is not reversed.
“On July 21st, the U.S. abruptly asked China to close its consulate in Houston,” Wenbin said in translated remarks broadcast by the China Global Television Network (CGTN). “This is American political provocation against China and a serious breach of international law and the basic laws of international relations.”
“It is also a grave violation of the bilateral consular agreement and deliberately undermines China-U.S. relations,” Wenbin continued. “China strongly condemns this outrageous and unjustified move. We urge the U.S. to reverse this incorrect decision immediately, otherwise China will definitely take necessary, legitimate actions.”
An unnamed source with direct knowledge of Chinese deliberations told Reuters that China may retaliate by closing the U.S. consulate in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“The US asked China to close Consulate General in Houston in 72 hours. This is a crazy move,” tweeted Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the Chinese Global Times publication.
The US asked China to close Consulate General in Houston in 72 hours. This is a crazy move.
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) July 22, 2020
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the U.S. ordered the closure “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”
The decision comes within a day of the U.S. Department of Justice announcing charges for two Chinese hackers working with the Chinese Ministry of State Security. The DOJ said the hackers took part in a decade-long intellectual property theft campaign that targeted hundreds of U.S. companies and organizations, including recent coronavirus vaccine research.
CNN journalist Ivan Watson said the first indication something had changed at the Chinese consulate in Houston came when firetrucks responded to the consulate early Tuesday morning, as smoke rose up from the diplomatic compound.
Video has since emerged of consulate staff burning documents in a central courtyard at the consulate.
“Video from Consulate General of China in Houston, TX shows fire in the courtyard of the building, hours before it was shut down today. US State Dept. ordered its closure in another escalation with China,” a Twitter user posted with footage of the document burning efforts.
Video from Consulate General of China in Houston, TX shows fire in the courtyard of the building, hours before it was shut down today.
US State Dept. ordered its closure in another escalation with China: pic.twitter.com/XBZ1OnZ43f
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) July 22, 2020