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Rabu, 22 Juli 2020

US orders China to shut Houston consulate in move Beijing calls 'unprecedented escalation' - ABC News

The United States has told China to close its consulate in Houston, both countries said, deepening a deterioration in bilateral relations.

Washington had "abruptly demanded" closure of the Houston consulate on Tuesday (local time), a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

Firefighters had reportedly been called to the building because papers were being burned, after the US gave consular workers three days to shut down the office.

Beijing condemned the order and threatened retaliation, but did not say what measures it might take, however a source told Reuters that Beijing was considering shutting down the US consulate in Wuhan.

In a statement, a US State Department spokesperson said the move was made "in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information".

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"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 behaviour."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the decision saying the US is setting "clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave".

"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," he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the consulate was operating normally and declined to comment further on those reports.

Ties between the United States and China have worsened dramatically this year over a range of issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, issues to do with telecommunications company Huawei, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong.

This incident is not the first time the Chinese consulate in Houston has been at the centre of the news, in 1981, Li Cunxin, who is currently the Queensland ballet's artistic director, was detained at the consulate for 21 hours before defecting to the US.

Mr Cunxin graced the world's stages to critical acclaim, where he met his Australian ballerina wife while dancing in London, before marrying her and moving to Australia in 1995.

China 'will react with firm countermeasures'

A composite image of Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and US President Donald Trump, right, have disagreed on a range of issues this year.(Reuters)

It was not immediately clear why China's Houston consulate had been singled out.

"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," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing.

The US Government had been harassing Chinese diplomats and consular staff for some time, Mr Wang said, and "intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices, even detaining them".

He said the US had interfered with China's diplomatic missions, including intercepting diplomatic pouches and confiscating Chinese items for "official use".

He did not specify whether the actions were related to the Houston consulate.

A fire truck is positioned outside the Chinese Consulate in Houston.
Witnesses said people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to police.(AP: David J. Phillip)

It was not immediately clear what other measures China may consider.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would shut the consulate.

The US embassy in Beijing referred a query to the State Department. Last month, it had said that the United States would soon resume operations at the Wuhan consulate.

Reuters/ABC

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2020-07-22 14:14:00Z
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