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U.S. Orders Closure of Chinese Consulate in Houston, Residents Call Fire Department in Response to Burning of Documents

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

The U.S. on Tuesday ordered the Chinese Consulate in Houston to close within 72 hours, citing “massive illegal spying and influence operations” conducted by China.

Neighboring residents subsequently called Houston firefighters after consulate workers apparently began burning documents in the courtyard of the compound. Firefighters were unable to intervene because the consulate operates under Chinese jurisdiction.

“The People’s Republic of China has engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations throughout the United States against U.S. government officials and American citizens,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. The closure would “protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), acting head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, commented on Twitter,  “China’s consulate in Houston is not a diplomatic facility. It is the central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States. Now that building must close & the spies have 72 hours to leave or face arrest.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin slammed the order to shut the consulate.

“For some time, the United States government has been shifting the blame to China with stigmatization and unwarranted attacks against China’s social system, harassing Chinese diplomatic and consular staff in America, intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices, even detaining them without cause,” Wang told reporters. Wang urged the U.S. to reverse its decision, “otherwise China will certainly make legitimate and necessary reactions.”

The specific alleged actions taken by the consulate that led to its closure were not made immediately clear. However, the closure comes amid rising tension between China and the U.S. caused by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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