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US Orders Chinese Consulate to Close

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The relationship between the United States and China is deteriorating rapidly, but neither side is backing down. Now, the US has ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close.

On Tuesday, the U.S. officially ordered China to close its consulate office in Houston. The State Department said the US decided to close the consulate “in order to protect American intellectual property” and the privacy of American citizens. The move represented a dramatic escalation in the increasingly tense standoff between the world’s most powerful economies. China promised payback.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday morning criticizing the US decision as an outrageous affront. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called it a “political provocation unilaterally launched by the U.S” at a routine briefing in Beijing. He also warned the U.S. to reconsider its decision. “China urges the U.S. to immediately rescind its erroneous decision, otherwise China will undertake legitimate and necessary responses.”

State Department’s Response

The State Department didn’t say what prompted the decision to close the embassy, but it did release a statement in response to the Chinese tough talk. “President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in U.S.-China relations,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. “The United States will not tolerate the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] 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.”

The embassy closure could relate to an indictment against two hackers in China that was just made public on Tuesday. Prosecutors say the two hackers targeted U.S. firms to steal coronavirus research while working for the Ministry of State Security, China’s leading intelligence outfit. The indictment also accuses the pair of stealing millions of dollars in sensitive information from companies around the world. It was the first U.S. indictment that linked a cyber theft campaign to a foreign government. According to the indictment, the hackers, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, stole secrets from dozens of companies and institutions in the U.S. and nine other countries over the course of a decade. The hackers are believed to be in China where they are safely out of the reach of U.S. prosecutors.

China Cries Foul

Shortly after the U.S. ordered the consulate to close, Houston firefighters began receiving calls about huge plumes of smoke emitting from the courtyard of the Chinese consulate. Local news coverage of the incident aired video footage that appeared to show embassy staff burning documents in an outdoor area of the consulate office. According to a tweet from the editor-in-chief of the Chinese Communist Party’s official tabloid, China is under orders to close and evacuate the facility within 72 hours.

China is crying foul in regards to the U.S. closure of its consulate. The aforementioned Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mr. Wang, accused the U.S. of violating international law and breaking a bilateral consular agreement between the two countries. He also said U.S. officials have been regularly harassing China’s diplomatic personnel and unfairly intimidating Chinese students.

Wang said the U.S. imposed restrictions on Chinese diplomats twice within the past year without providing sufficient justification. He also accused the U.S of searching Chinese diplomatic bags and confiscating unspecified items. Host countries aren’t supposed to search diplomatic bags under the terms of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

China always portrays itself as the victim, but the U.S. closed the consulate for a reason. The pandemic emboldened China’s government and they’ve been especially aggressive over the past few months. Despite China’s feigned innocence, the U.S. and the rest of the international community are wise to the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing routine, and they’re running out of patience. China promised retaliation for the closures, but they should think twice before provoking the U.S and its allies anymore than they already have.

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