US Orders Chinese Consulate in Houston Closed, Trump Hints at More to Come
US bent on waging two Cold Wars concurrently
Continuing with mounting tensions, on Wednesday the United States ordered the Chinese Consulate in Houston, TX to be closed by Friday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this was retaliation for Chinese IP theft.
State Department officials say that the consulate was the “epicenter of theft” for China. Later in the day, Justice Dept officials also accused China of trying to hack Covid-19 labs. It is not clear that this was generally connected to the consulate.
Having the US close large nations’ consulates as a punitive measure is increasingly common. During Obama’s Administration, Russian consulates were constantly being shuttered or ordered to eliminate staff.
China said the move was “unbelievably ridiculous,” and threatened retaliatory countermeasures. The US has seven consular posts or other diplomatic sites in China, which could lead to a tit-for-tat move. Whether or not they do this, President Trump suggests more consulates could be closed.
US President Donald Trump has indicated that it was “always possible” he would order the closure of more Chinese consulates in the United States, after the US gave Beijing 72 hours to shut its consulate in Houston further souring ties between the two countries.
Trump, at a White House news conference on Wednesday, noted that a fire had been spotted on the Houston consulate’s grounds after the US Department of State ordered the closure.
“I guess they were burning documents and burning papers,” he said.
China has condemned the closure as “an unprecedented escalation” that would sabotage relations between the two countries.
The South China Morning Post reported on Thursday that Beijing could retaliate by shutting down the US consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu. It cited an official briefed on the decision.
Chinese state media angrily reacted to the move as an attempt to blame Beijing for American failures ahead of presidential elections in November.
The official English-language newspaper China Daily on Thursday described the move as “a new gambit in the US administration’s bid to paint China as a malevolent actor on the world stage, and thus make it an outlaw to the international community”.
“The move shows that lagging behind his presidential election opponent in the polls… the US leader is going all out in his attempts to portray China as an agent of evil,” it added.
The Global Times, an English-language tabloid run by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, also accused Trump of playing politics. “The November presidential election is driving Washington mad,” it said.
In a statement earlier on Wednesday, Morgan Ortagus, spokeswoman for the US Department of State, said Washington directed the Houston consulate’s closure “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information”.
She did not elaborate.
In Beijing, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, called the “unilateral closure” of the Houston consulate “an unprecedented escalation of” US’s recent actions against China.
“We urge the US to immediately revoke this erroneous decision. Should it insist on going down this wrong path, China will react with firm countermeasures,” Wang said.
He added that China “strongly condemns” the “outrageous and unjustified move, which will sabotage China-US relations”.
Wang did not indicate what steps China would take against the US. Besides its embassy in Beijing, the US has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying wrote on social media on Wednesday that China’s embassy in Washington, DC had received bomb and death threats, as a result of “smears” and “hatred fanned up” by the US government.
Source: Al Jazeera
China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday strongly condemned the US for asking China to close its Consulate General in Houston, a reckless and dangerous move which analysts said will further flare up tensions between the two largest economies in the world.
On Tuesday local time, the US abruptly asked China to close its Consulate General in Houston in 72 hours. This is a unilateral political provocation by the US side against China, a grave violation of the international law and basic norms governing international relations, a grave violation of relevant provisions of the China-US consular treaty, and a deliberate attempt to undermine China-US relations, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Wednesday.
The Chinese side strongly condemned the move, and urged the US to immediately correct its mistakes. Otherwise, China will make a legitimate and necessary response, the spokesperson said.
For some time, the US has been attacking and launching smear campaigns against China, and unreasonably made trouble for staff members at Chinese consulates. The latest move to ask China to close its Consulate General in Houston is an unprecedented escalation of its moves against China, the spokesperson said.
In October 2019 and June 2020, the US side twice imposed restrictions on Chinese diplomatic staff in the US, opened Chinese diplomatic packages privately on many occasions, and seized Chinese official supplies, the spokesperson said.
As a result of the recent indiscriminate stigmatization and incitement of hatred by the US, bomb and death threats have been made against Chinese diplomatic missions and personnel in the US, the spokesperson said.
The website of the US Embassy in China often publishes articles openly attacking China. It is clear who is interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and who is infiltrating and inciting confrontations, he said.
The Consulate General in Houston is the first Chinese consulate general established in the US. Several Chinese experts on China-US relations said, “Washington is completely out of the line,” while one expert suggested that China could take countermeasures such as shutting down the US Consulate General in Hong Kong.
Observers also called the move “unprecedented”, saying it would trigger a broader earthquake in diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Some video footage circulating on social media showed documents being burned in the courtyard of the consulate general on Wednesday, with police and firefighters outside the embassy.
The last time the Trump administration ordered a foreign consulate on American territory to close was in August 2017, when it ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two diplomatic annexes, in New York and Washington, “bearing all of the hallmarks of a Cold War-era grudge match,” according to the New York Times.
Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the US move, which is unprecedented in the history of China-US relations, indicated a serious escalation in bilateral confrontations and will definitely result in countermeasures from China.
Xin said that asking the Chinese consulate general to close down on a short notice is very rude, and is tantamount to eviction.
The US move disregards the consequences of all-around deterioration in bilateral ties and it seems that easing China-US relations is almost impossible during the Trump administration, Xin said.
He said that the US takes the full responsibility for the deterioration in bilateral ties, and under the current circumstances, the US may expel some Chinese diplomats in the US, Xin said.
Some US-China relations observers and legal experts also suggested that it is possible that China will ask the US to close the US Consulate General in Hong Kong as a countermeasure, a move which is conducive for Hong Kong’s stability, as US consulate staff there have played a role in the months-long unrest in Hong Kong last year, observers said.
Such a suggestion also reflected public opinion. In an online poll conducted by the Global Times Wednesday asking netizens that as a countermeasure, “which US consulate general in China is most likely to be closed?” Over 8,600 netizens cast their votes as of 9:30 pm on Wednesday, and nearly 80 percent voted for the US consulate general in Hong Kong and Macao on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo.
Although it doesn’t represent the official options for countermeasures, it represents a certain level of Chinese public sentiment, some observers suggested.
“Such poll result vividly reflected the public anger over the US meddling in Hong Kong affairs,” Tian Feilong, a member of Beijing-based Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
The same poll on Twitter garnered nearly 10,000 respondents, with 64.9 percent voted for the US consulate general in Hong Kong and Macao, 10.4 percent voted for the one in Guangzhou and 7.8 percent voted for the one in Chengdu.
China is considering ordering the closure of the US consulate in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei Province, Reuters said on Wednesday, citing a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
However, those who speculate that China will shut the US consulate in Wuhan in retaliation are underestimating Chinese government’s will. As staff has not returned to Wuhan consulate, so a closure would not be an equivalent countermeasure compared with the US bullying tactics, said observers.
The US’ move came after reports claiming that some US diplomats have not been able to return to China as Washington and Beijing cannot agree on testing and quarantine procedures for diplomats and their families. However, insider said that this is not the reason that the US asked China to close consulate in Houston. The US doesn’t have any reasonable excuse at all for this action, people who are familiar with the situation said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on July 2 that China and the US have been in close communication on the return of American diplomats to China, and we already helped the US to arrange a charter flight to bring back their diplomats after bilateral consultations.
Our quarantine measures apply equally to all foreign diplomatic missions to China, Zhao said.
Source: Global Times