China and the US were headed for a major diplomatic confrontation as Washington on Wednesday ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, a move it said was aimed “to protect American intellectual property and private information,” hinting at cyber espionage.
Reacting strongly to the US move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin termed it as an “unprecedented escalation” and warned retaliatory measures.
“China demands the US revoke the wrong decision. If the US went ahead, China would take necessary countermeasures,” he warned.
Wang also said the Chinese embassy and consulates in the US had received both explosives and death threats recently.
Earlier, the US State Department in a brief statement said “we have directed the closure of PRC [People’s Republic of China] Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.”
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the US “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”.
Ortagus also pointed to the Vienna Convention, under which states “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of a host country.
The consulate in Houston, Texas, is one of five in the US, not counting the embassy in Washington DC. It is unclear why this one was singled out.
The US move followed the American Justice Department’s claim that hackers working with the Chinese government targeted firms developing vaccines for the coronavirus and stole hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world.
Both the US and China were locked in a political and strategic conflict in recent months on a host of issues including the origin of the coronavirus, China’s decision to implement its national security law in Hong Kong and deepening trade frictions.
Beijing apparently is looking at options to order the closure of the US Consulate in Wuhan or in Hong Kong, where the Chinese officials had accused the US of backing the anti-China protests.
Earlier, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that on July 21, the US abruptly demanded that China’s Consulate General in Houston cease all operations and events.