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China says US has ordered abrupt closure of Houston consulate

China said the United States "abruptly" asked it to close its consulate in Houston, as tensions between the two countries keep ratcheting higher.

Beijing, 22 July 2020 (dpa/MIA) – China said the United States “abruptly” asked it to close its consulate in Houston, as tensions between the two countries keep ratcheting higher.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Wednesday the consulate closure was “a political provocation” and a violation of international norms and bilateral agreements between China and the US.

“We urge the US to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision otherwise China will make legitimate and necessary reactions,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement the consulate was directed to close “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”

Local TV station Fox 26 reported that Houston firefighters were called to a fire at the Chinese consulate late Tuesday but were denied entrance into the building.

Houston police said Chinese diplomats were burning classified documents in the courtyard because they were being evicted from the building on Friday, the TV station said.

Hu Xijin, editor of the Chinese state-run paper Global Times, said on Twitter the consulate staff had been asked to evacuate within 72 hours.

The move represents an “unprecedented escalation” in the US’ actions toward China, Wang said.

He added the US had twice before imposed restrictions on Chinese diplomatic personnel in the US, in October and June respectively. US authorities opened Chinese diplomatic pouches and confiscated items for official use, Wang said.

Wang accused US diplomats in China of “engaging in infiltration and interference activities.”

Asked about the document burning at the Houston consulate, Wang said the consulate was operating “normally.”

Tensions between the US and China have been growing steadily since the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017, the year when Washington launched a trade war against China.

Relations worsened this year as Trump repeatedly blamed China for the coronavirus outbreak, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The two countries are also sparring over Hong Kong’s autonomy, the treatment of ethnic minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region and Beijing’s military build-out in the South China Sea.

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