Chinese consulate in Houston burns files in courtyard after Beijing threatened retaliation over closure order
HOUSTAN, TEXAS: Texas fire officials, amid a heightened diplomatic and trade dispute between the United States and China, responded to fire reports near the office of the Consulate General of China in Houston on Tuesday, July 21. It was later observed by nearby residents that smoke was emanating from the consulate premises after its employees reportedly began burning documents in the courtyard.
Houston police, in a tweet, wrote that smoke was seen in a courtyard area but that officers were not allowed to enter the building. Footage of the incident was shared by multiple local media outlets, showing the Houston Police Department and fire officials attempting to enter the premises to put out the fire. The officials reportedly were alerted of the fire at around 8 PM local time at 3417 Montrose Boulevard, the address where the Chinese consulate is located.
This video shared with us by a viewer who lives next to the Consulate General of China in #Houston shows fire and activity in the courtyard of the building.— KPRC2Tulsi (@KPRC2Tulsi) July 22, 2020
DETAILS SO FAR: https://t.co/2cOeKoap96 pic.twitter.com/0myxe6HIlC
A witness, while talking to KPRC 2, said: "You could just smell the paper burning. But, all the firefighters were just surrounding the building. They couldn’t go inside." Meanwhile, a Houston Police Department source told the media outlet that the Chinese consulate and another compound on Almeda Road, where several employees of the mission live, are being asked to vacate on Friday, July 24.
China, in a statement on Wednesday, July 22, had said that the US had abruptly told the country to close its consulate in Houston. Beijing threatened retaliation over the move, calling America's decision "outrageous" and warned the US of tough actions if they do not reverse their decision. Reports state that the Houston consulate officials are told to vacate the consulate by 4 PM on Friday.
China's foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said: "We urge the US to immediately revoke this erroneous decision. Should it insist on going down this wrong path, China will react with firm countermeasures." The spokesperson also accused the US of "interference, infiltration and confrontation" against Chinese interests, and added that its embassy in Washington had received bomb threats.
Meanwhile, the US State Department released a statement, saying it was necessary "to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information." No particular details of the precise reason for the closure were provided. Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagys, however, said that the US would "not tolerate the PRC's (China'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 behavior".
The consulate's closure comes amid heightened tensions between China and the US over a range of issues, including the South China Sea dispute, the coronavirus outbreak, trade, the Uighurs, and Hong Kong's controversial national security law. Several other countries at the time are in contention with China at the time, including the UK, Japan, and India. The UK recently halted its Hong Kong extradition treaty over the new security law and has ordered all Huawei technology to be stripped out of the UK's 5G network. China slammed the UK's response, calling it "an unprecedented escalation of recent actions against China," reports state.