Possibly documents burnt in China’s Houston Consulate, Beijing may shut US' Wuhan consulate

As soon as the US ordered China to close its consulate in Houston within 72 hours since Wednesday morning, some people were spotted burning what were possibly documents at the premise. Beijing also responded to Washington’s move, calling it outrageous and unjustified that will sabotage relations between the two countries.
July 22, 2020 | 22:49
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Documents were allegedly burnt in China’s Houston Consulate courtyard

The local outlet ABC 13 reported early Wednesday morning that trash cans full of what were believed documents, being burned in the consulate's courtyard.

A police official told the Houston Chronicle that witnesses saw paper being burned in what appeared to be open trash cans outside the building.

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An image from video footage appearing to show documents being burned in the courtyard of China's Houston consulate. Twitter/ KPRC2Tulsi/Breaking 911

The police also told the local outlet Fox26 Houston that a fire reported at the consulate on Tuesday evening was the result of people burning documents. KPRC 2 reported that the police were told documents were being burned just after 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

One witness told KPRC 2: "You could just smell the paper burning."

Fox26 reported that police officers and the fire department were not allowed onto the premises as it's considered Chinese territory. The police official told the Houston Chronicle that the police were not allowed to access the building.

The Houston police department also tweeted about the apparent document burning.

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"About 8:25 pm on Tuesday, our officers responded to a meet the firefighter call to the China Consulate General in Houston building ... Smoke was observed in an outside courtyard area," the department said. "Officers were not granted access to enter the building."

It happened after the US ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in a move to "protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information,” according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

"The United States will not tolerate the PRC's violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC's unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior," she added.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced an indictment charging two Chinese nationals— both in China — with hacking governments, dissidents, human rights activists and private companies, including those engaged in COVID-19 vaccine research.

Beijing warned it would make “a timely and necessary response”

"On July 21, the US suddenly requested China to close the Consulate General in Houston. This was a political provocation unilaterally initiated by the US against China," a Chinese Foreign Ministry representative, Wang Wenbin, said on Wednesday, calling it an "unprecedented escalation" in US-China relations, Business Insider reported.

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A fire engine is seen outside the Chinese consulate in Houston © David J. Phillip/AP

Wang said the move "seriously violated international law and basic norms of international relation" and damaged relations between the US and China.

"China strongly condemns this. China urges the US to immediately revoke the wrong decision," he said. "Otherwise, China will definitely make a proper and necessary response."

Hu Xijin, the editor of China's state-backed Global Times newspaper, said the US gave China just 72 hours to close the consulate. While The Foreign Ministry statement said the Houston consulate was being closed "unilaterally" by the US "for a limited time." It did not specify a deadline given by the US. The ministry also criticized the US's treatment of China.

China has four other consulates in the US — in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco — as well as an embassy in Washington, DC.

An unidentified source told Reuters that Beijing was considering closing the US consulate in the Chinese city of Wuhan in retaliation, but China's next moves remain unclear.

Beijing warned it would make “a timely and necessary response” if the US did not reconsider.

Bonnie Glaser, China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Financial Times that China would “almost certainly shut down the US consulate in Wuhan in retaliation”.

Daniel Hoffman, a former station chief with the CIA's clandestine service, said the agency would have “gamed out” how China would likely respond and that the administration had decided it could stomach the results.

Tensions between the US and China have reached unprecedented heights in the Trump era, with top experts warning that the two major powers are on the brink of a new Cold War with clashing on some issues regarding Hong Kong, Covid-19 and trade war and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

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