The U.S. government has abruptly ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in what Beijing is calling an “unprecedented escalation.” The forced eviction, which China said was unilaterally initiated by the Trump administration, is the latest sign of deteriorating ties between the world’s two biggest economies. China threatened retaliation for the closure and accused the U.S. of harassing diplomatic staff and intimidating Chinese students, confiscating personal electrical devices, and detaining them without cause. On Tuesday, two Chinese citizens were charged by the U.S. Justice Department with hacking Western sites where coronavirus vaccines are being developed. In a statement early Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said “We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” adding the U.S. “will not tolerate the PRC’s 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.”
On Tuesday night, papers were being burned outside at the embassy as the Chinese prepared to leave. In videos posted online by local media outlets in Houston, fires could be seen in multiple containers, with smoke rising into the sky. Firefighters were not allowed inside the complex.