The US ordered China to shut its consulate in Houston as a message to Beijing to reel in its espionage operations to steal US science and technology secrets, a senior State Department official said Friday.
“There comes a time when you have to say, enough is enough,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity.
“Stop espionage”: US sends a ‘message’ to China
Beijing has “egregiously abused its free and open access” to US society by running operations to illegally collect US intellectual property, the official said.
“Houston is a firm demonstration that we are serious.”
On Tuesday the State Department ordered the consulate in the largest city in Texas closed, giving Beijing until Friday to complete the process. This is now revealed to have been a retaliatory move against China for espionage against the US.
#BREAKING US closure of China's Houston consulate a 'message' for Beijing to stop economic espionage: State Dept. official .
— Radio World (@radioworldsv) July 24, 2020
Trucks have been arriving day and night to remove possessions and equipment, and on Wednesday plumes of smoke were seen coming from the building, suggesting Chinese officials were burning documents.
Early Friday numerous Chinese officials, all wearing coronavirus masks, were seen loading large bags on to U-Haul trucks and throwing away bags in nearby trash bins.
US says China espionage “went all over the line”
A Justice Department official told reporters, also on grounds of anonymity, that while the United States expects some efforts at espionage and intellectual property theft from foreign missions, the activities from Houston “went well over the line.”
They included directing Chinese students and researchers on what kinds of information and technology to obtain, recruiting Americans to their technology program, and targetting Chinese dissidents residing in the United States.
The public examples of such espionage by China against US, known from a series of criminal cases over the past three years, “are merely the tip of the iceberg” of what is known to US intelligence, the Justice official said.
A US intelligence official told reporters that the science and technology “collectors” at the Houston consulate “were particularly aggressive, and successful.”
Early Friday, Beijing retaliated by ordering the United States to close its consulate in Chengdu, Sichuan province.
Background: US orders closure of China consulate in Houston
The United States has ordered China to close its Houston consulate, Beijing said Wednesday, marking a dramatic escalation in diplomatic tensions between the feuding superpowers.
In the hours after the Trump administration notified the Chinese of its decision, smoke was seen billowing from a courtyard inside the consulate as employees dumped what appeared to be documents into flaming barrels, according to a video posted by KPRC-TV, a local television station.
This is the correct response. US started it by insulting and humiliating the Chinese consulate in Houston. What do you expect China to do ? Send them a bouquet of flowers. By closing US consulate it sends a clear message, we are equals whether you like it or lump it.
— O s i b i s a b a (@JupiterJazz67) July 24, 2020
The closure in Houston was the latest effort by the Trump administration to tighten the reins on Chinese diplomats, journalists, scholars and others in the United States. Restrictions have included Cold-War-like travel rules for diplomats and requiring several Chinese state news organizations to register as diplomatic entities. The administration is also considering a ban on travel to the United States by members of the Communist Party and their families, a move that would affect 270 million people.
President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up pressure on China on a wide range of issues, imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over policies in Tibet and Xinjiang.
The United States has led denunciations of the treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, a far west region where an estimated one million Uighurs and other ethnic groups are believed to have been held in re-education camps.
Read more: Furious China threatens retaliation over US law on Hong Kong US china espionage
The US has also downgraded relations with Hong Kong after China implemented a new security law which it says is in violation of its promises of autonomy for the territory.
In addition, last week Washington formally declared Beijing’s pursuit of territory and resources in South China Sea as illegal, explicitly backing the territorial claims of Southeast Asian countries against China’s.
Washington has also infuriated Beijing by banning telecom giant Huawei and seeking the extradition from Canada of top company executive Meng Wanzhou.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the “entire world” to stand up to China on Tuesday during a visit to Britain.
GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources