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Rabu, 22 Juli 2020

Papers set on fire after US orders closure of Chinese consulate - Sydney Morning Herald

Documents were set on fire in the courtyard of a Chinese consulate in Houston after the Trump administration ordered the diplomatic office to shut down amid claims of spying.

The rapidly declining relationship between Washington and Beijing plummeted further this week, after the US gave Chinese diplomatic staff 72 hours to leave, citing the need to “protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.”

A firetruck was called to the Chinese Consulate in Houston after reports of a fire at the consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to police.

A firetruck was called to the Chinese Consulate in Houston after reports of a fire at the consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to police. Credit:AP

China’s espionage and influence operations have been a concern for the US for some time, but no specific details were given by the State Department on what exactly this closure was seeking to protect.

However, Texas has long been regarded as potential target for hackers due to its lucrative oil industry and space station operations, and the move also comes after the US accused hackers of trying to steal coronovirus vaccine data.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to elaborate, simply saying the closure was designed to set out “clear expectations on how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave - and when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect the American people, protect our security, our national security, and also protect our economy and jobs."

“President Trump has said enough," Pompeo said during a press conference in Denmark with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. "We’re not going to allow this to continue to happen.”

Shortly after the announcement was made, police and firefighters in Houston rushed to the Chinese consulate, after witnesses suggested paperwork was being burnt in metal barrels in the courtyard of the facility.

“About 8:25 pm ... our officers responded to meet the firefighter call to the China Consulate General in Houston building at 3417 Montrose Blvd,” Houston Police tweeted. “Smoke was observed in an outside courtyard area. Officers were not granted access to enter the building.”

The shutdown is the latest in a series of actions and responses in recent weeks between China and the US, on everything from the South China Sea, to human rights violations and the coronavirus crisis.

The virus is a particular challenge for Trump, whose handling of the pandemic has been a major factor in the President’s declining popularity, with polls placing Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead in many battleground states almost 100 days before the state election.

The Houston Fire Department responds to reports of a fire inside the Chinese Consulate in Houston.

The Houston Fire Department responds to reports of a fire inside the Chinese Consulate in Houston. Credit:AP

Beijing immediately vowed to retaliate, paving the way for speculation that it could close the US embassy in Wuhan, which has been dormant since January when the coronavirus began to spread.

On Twitter, Foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying described it as an "unprecedented upgrade of US PoliticalOppression against China" and warned that "China will surely react with firm countermeasures."

She added: "As a result of smears and hatred fanned up by the US gov, the Chinese embassy has received bomb and DeathThreats. "

"Infiltration & interferance [sic] is never in the genes and tradition of China's ForeignPolicy. While Chinese diplomats are promoting mutual understanding & friendship, the US embassy in China publicly attacks China's political system."

The Chinese consulate in Houston was set up in 1979.

However, outspoken China critic Senator Marco Rubio - who along Texan senator Ted Cruz was recently sanctioned by Beijing - claimed in a tweet: "#China’s consulate in #Houston is not a diplomatic facility. It is the central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies and influence operations in the United States. Now that building must close and the spies have 72 hours to leave or face arrest. This needed to happen.”

Asked why the US had been ordered the Houston consulate to shut down, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus suggested breaches of the Vienna Convention, which she said 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.”

“We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information,” he said.

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2020-07-22 19:28:00Z
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