China vows firm response over abrupt closure of consulate in US


Chinese mission given just 72 hours to shut; Beijing calls US move a 'political provocation'

China yesterday vowed "firm countermeasures" against the US after the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, was abruptly ordered to shut, adding to the hostilities between Washington and Beijing.

This comes on the back of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's comments calling for a global coalition to stand up against China.

Tensions between the world's top two economies have ratcheted up in recent weeks over a long list of issues ranging from trade to diplomacy to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Receiving an order on Tuesday local time, the consulate was given 72 hours to stop operations and for its staff to vacate the premises, a move Beijing called "political provocation".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press briefing in Beijing that the ordered closure "seriously violates" international laws and norms governing international relations. "China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move, which will sabotage China-US relations. We urge the US to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision. Otherwise, China will make legitimate and necessary reactions," he said.

Mr Wang accused the US government of stigmatising China and launching unwarranted attacks against the country's social system, harassing Chinese diplomats, and intimidating and interrogating Chinese students, even confiscating their devices.

He further claimed the US has often violated diplomatic norms by imposing restrictions on Chinese diplomats and opening diplomatic pouches. China's diplomatic staff have repeatedly received death and bomb threats, he added.

China has five other missions in the United States - consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, as well as its embassy in Washington.

"Meanwhile, personnel of the US embassy in China have long been engaging in infiltration and interference activities... If we compare the two, it is only too evident which is engaged in interference, infiltration and confrontation," Mr Wang said.

The US has diplomatic missions in six mainland Chinese cities - consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan, as well as its embassy in Beijing.

A Reuters' source yesterday said China is considering ordering the closure of the consulate in Wuhan city. US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus told reporters during Mr Pompeo's visit to Copenhagen yesterday: "We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information."

Hours earlier at about 8pm local time, police and firefighters descended on the consulate in Houston, following reports that papers were being burned outside in open containers. Local TV stations KPRC and KHOU showed fires in multiple open containers while fire trucks and police cars were seen parked outside the consulate.

During a visit to London on Tuesday, Mr Pompeo urged the "entire world" to stand up against China, whom he accused of engaging in "a cover-up and co-opting" the World Health Organisation by allegedly suppressing early details of the "preventable" Covid-19 pandemic.

"We think that the entire world needs to work together to ensure that every country, including China, behaves in the international system in ways that are appropriate and consistent with the international order," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2020, with the headline 'China vows firm response over abrupt closure of consulate in US'. Print Edition | Subscribe