US orders China to close Houston consulate, Beijing vows retalitation

The U.S. has ordered that the Chinese government shut down its consulate in Houston, citing the need to protect American intellectual property.

"We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told The Hill in a statement, using shorthand for China's official name, the People's Republic of China.

Ortagus added: "The United States 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. President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE insists on fairness and reciprocity in U.S.-China relations."

ADVERTISEMENT

While Ortagus didn't elaborate on any possible violations, she did quote part of the Vienna Convention, noting the treaty requires diplomats to “respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State” and “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”

Beijing responded to the move quickly, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin calling it "an unprecedented escalation" while vowing retaliation.

“The U.S. has far more diplomatic missions and staff working in China. So if the U.S. is bent on going down this wrong path, we will resolutely respond,” Wang said.

Firefighters responded to reports of papers burning on the consulate property on Tuesday night but were denied access to the facility, according to The Associated Press.

The move by the department comes after Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Top House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing Democrats subpoena top aides to Pompeo MORE recently floated the idea that the U.S. could ban the popular Chinese video app TikTok, which is run by the company Bytedance. Washington has made its concerns about the company known before, though Bytedance has vehemently denied that it would ever give user data to the Chinese government. 

It also comes just one day after the Commerce Department unveiled sanctions against 11 Chinese companies over concerns that the firms were assisting China's government with the oppression of Uighur minorities in the northwestern Xinjiang province.