Reckless and dangerous: China fumes as tension with US scalps Houston consulate

The tension between the US and China has found a new battleground. The US has ordered closure of a Chinese consulate in Texas city of Houston. China has called the move as reckless and dangerous. Geeta Mohan reports

The US has ordered closure of Chinese consulate in Houston following reports about confidential documents being burnt in its courtyard. (Photo: AP)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • China fumes at the US after it ordered closure of consulate in Houston
  • The US said its action is aimed at protecting American intellectual property
  • China says the US move is reckless and dangerous

China on Wednesday called the decision of US administration to shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston as “reckless” and a “dangerous” move warning Washington DC of reciprocal action.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin condemned the action, which could further fuel tension between the two largest economies of the world.

“The Chinese side strongly condemned the move, and urged the US to immediately correct its mistakes. Otherwise, China will make a legitimate and necessary response,” the spokesperson said.

Wang Wenbin said, “The US suddenly asked China to close down its Consulate General in Houston. This is a unilateral political provocation by the US side against China, a grave violation of the international law and basic norms governing international relations, a grave violation of relevant provisions of the China-US consular treaty, and a deliberate attempt to undermine China-US relations.”

TENSION LIKELY TO ESCALATE

The development has created outrage in China and the Chinese media with the Global Times running a twitter poll asking which of the US consulates should be shut down in China.

Interestingly, the poll includes the US mission in Hong Kong. If Beijing decides to move on closing down the US Consulates in Hong Kong and Macau, that may lead to major escalation between the two countries.

Besides its embassy in Beijing, the US has five consulates in mainland China: Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang. In addition, it has one consulate in Hong Kong.

THE BACKSTORY

Consulates are diplomatic missions subordinate to the main embassies or high commission. They usually handle minor diplomatic issues such as visas, migrants, trade relations and the like.

Washington DC has taken this extreme measure following reports in the US media that confidential documents were being burnt on the campus of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas.

According to the Houston Police Department reports emerged of documents being burned in the courtyard of the Consulate General of China in Houston on Tuesday night.

The Houston police and fire services were pressed into action after they received calls from eyewitnesses in the neighbourhood following which videos emerged of the fire and smoke bellowing out of the 3417 Montrose Boulevard address of the consulate.

Houston first-responders arrived at the scene but they did not go into the property.

Later, the mission was informed, according to media reports, that the consulate and a compound on Almeda Road, where many employees of the consulate live, have been asked to vacate by Friday 4 pm.

CHINA COUNTERS

But the Chinese side wants the US to revoke the order. “The Chinese side strongly condemned the move, and urged the US to immediately correct its mistakes. Otherwise, China will make a legitimate and necessary response,” the Chinese spokesperson said.

Normally, papers are put through the shredder and dumped in the bin. But with technology, shredded papers can also be put back together to read the contents of the documents.

“For some time, the US has been attacking and launching smear campaigns against China, and unreasonably made trouble for staff members at Chinese consulates. The latest move to ask China to close its Consulate General in Houston is an unprecedented escalation of its moves against China,” the spokesperson said.

Accusing the US of creating “obstacles” for the diplomats posted there, the Chinese spokesperson said, “In October 2019 and June 2020, the US side put up obstacles to Chinese diplomatic staff in the US, opened Chinese diplomatic bags privately on many occasions, and seized Chinese official supplies.”

US DEFENDS ACTION

Meanwhile, the US has issued a brief statement saying the decision to close the Chinese consulate was taken “to protect American intellectual property” and the private information of Americans.

In a statement attributed to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, the US said, “The United States will not tolerate (China’s) violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated (its) unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior.”

(With agency inputs)

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