U.S. State Department orders China to close consulate in Houston as Beijing vows retaliation

  • The move comes as political tensions between the world's two largest economies continue to escalate.
  • U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the directive to close China's Consulate General Houston had been made to protect American intellectual property and the private information of its citizens.
  • China has since condemned the decision, warning of firm countermeasures if the U.S. failed to urgently rescind the order.

The U.S. State Department confirmed on Wednesday it had ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, Texas, prompting Beijing to insist on firm countermeasures unless Washington immediately reverses its decision.

The move comes as political tensions between the world's two largest economies continue to escalate.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the directive to close China's Consulate General Houston had been made to protect American intellectual property and the private information of its citizens.

The Vienna Convention states diplomats must "respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State" and "have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State," Ortagus continued.

She added that Washington would not tolerate the People's Republic of China's violations of U.S. 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.

China has since condemned the decision, warning of firm countermeasures if the U.S. failed to urgently rescind the order.

"The unilateral closure of China's consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily news briefing, Associated Press reported. 

The U.S. has given China three days to close the consulate in the Texas city, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. 

Reports of a fire

KPRC, an NBC News affiliate in Houston, Texas, obtained video footage on Tuesday from a resident near to China's consulate which appeared to show a small fire burning in the courtyard of the building. 

Assistant Chief Ruy Lozano of Houston Fire Department confirmed to NBC that they had responded to a fire in a courtyard at 3400 Montrose Boulevard at the Chinese Consulate at 8:20 p.m. local time on Tuesday. Initial crews arrived on location and reported no visible flames or smoke, Lozano said.

Fire crews were denied access to the building because, according to an international agreement, access to the property can only be obtained with consent.

Lozano said fire crews remained outside the structure of the building until it was confirmed that there was no fire threat to occupants and the surrounding community. He asked that questions regarding whether or not documents were being burned inside the consulate be deferred to the State Department.

Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China have reached their lowest point in years since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump's administration has frequently criticized China for a lack of transparency about the virus, where the outbreak started.

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