TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The United States has asked China to close its consulate in Houston, Texas, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said Wednesday (July 22).
The announcement followed reports about a fire at the location on Tuesday (July 21). Houston firefighters went to the scene, but they were not allowed to enter the consulate, as it is considered Chinese territory.
Media reports said that trash cans full of documents had been burning in the property’s inner courtyard. The consular offices are facing eviction by Friday (July 24) 4 p.m. local time, which might explain officials burning confidential information before their move, the reports said.
In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry described the eviction as a “provocation” and a “violation of international law,” the Associated Press reported. The “outrageous and unjustified move” will “sabotage” bilateral relations, a ministry spokesman said.
After China’s condemnation, the U.S. State Department confirmed the closure of the Houston consulate, saying the decision had been made to “protect American intellectual property” and private information, the BBC quoted spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus as saying.
She added that Washington would not tolerate violations of U.S. sovereignty and intimidation of the public. The Houston consulate was one of five in the U.S. outside the country’s embassy.
In a tweet, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio alleged that the Houston consulate served as "the central node of the Communist Party's vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States. He said the closure needed to happen, with the spies having 72 hours to leave or face arrest.