There seems to be no new week without an exacerbation in the increasing US-China conflict. The State Department confirmed on Wednesday that it had ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to be closed. According to Chinese media reports, diplomats were only given three days to leave the United States.
China Reacts: ‘Outrageous and Unjustified Move’
A spokesman for the State Department in Beijing spoke of an “outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage China-US relations.” Washington simultaneously called for the decision to “immediately withdraw”. Otherwise, one would respond with a “legitimate and necessary response.”
China and the United States have sanctioned diplomats in the past, but closing a consulate is a very unusual move. The developments had a negative impact on the US stock exchanges, particularly on the soybean trade — one of the essential US export products to China.
The US Department of State has yet to comment on whether a specific new occasion led to the decision to close the consulate. “President Trump insists on fairness in US-China relations,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
US: ‘Trump Insists on Fairness and Reciprocity in US-China Relations’
Her full statement on Wednesday said: “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. President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in US-China relations.”
However, there is a possibility that the closure might be related to Tuesday’s charges against two Chinese hackers. The US accuses hackers of attempting to sabotage US coronavirus research on behalf of the Chinese government. The charge is the first time the US has accused hackers of working on behalf of the Chinese government.
In addition, a link between the charges and the closure is also supported by the fact that Senator Marco Rubio, Acting Chairman of the Senate Secret Service Committee, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston is necessary because it is a central hub of the giant Beijing’s spy network.
Getting US Allies Onboard the Coalition Against China
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently in Europe, where he is promoting a harder course towards China. It is still unclear how Beijing will react to the recent escalation. It is possible to close US consulates in China, such as in the city of Wuhan.
The Chinese consulate in Houston is responsible for eight states in the southern United States, including Texas and Florida, and Puerto Rico. It is officially the first consulate to be founded in 1979 after the US and China established diplomatic relations. Previously, there was only one liaison office in Washington, DC.
The Significance of Ordering the Consulate Closed
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the US government surprisingly requested Tuesday that the Chinese consulate general “shut down all operations and events.” The move violates international standards and the consular agreements between China and the United States.
The United States spokesman said the United States has been harassing China’s diplomatic and consular personnel for some time. The unilateral closure of a consulate in such a short time was an “unprecedented escalation of the latest action against China.”
The United States spokesman said the United States had twice imposed restrictions on US diplomatic personnel last October and June. For his part, he accused American diplomats in China of “interfering” in China and “infiltrating” Chinese society. There are also more personnel in the US diplomatic missions in China than vice versa.
China’s new security law for Hong Kong, which has been criticized internationally for restricting freedoms in the Special Administrative Region, has recently fueled tensions. The USA has, therefore imposed sanctions on China. In addition, both sides remain on a collision course – inter alia – over trade disputes, China’s handling of the Muslim Uyghur minority, US espionage speculations against the Chinese 5G network builder Huawei and Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea.