Houston firefighters and police officers responded to a call on Tuesday evening regarding a fire at the Chinese Consulate.
“Smoke was observed in an outside courtyard area. Officers were not granted access to enter the building,” stated the Houston Police Department.
“Since HPD is not a lead agency in the matter, no other information is being released by our department at this time.”
Individuals in the consulate reportedly told police that they were being required to vacate the building by Friday afternoon.
Footage taken from a resident in a nearby tower appears to show Chinese officials burning documents in the consulate’s courtyard.
The U.S. Department of State confirmed on Wednesday that they had directed China to close its consulate in Houston.
“President Trump has said ‘enough,’” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We’re not going to continue to allow this to happen.”
“We are setting out clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave. And when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect the American people,” said Pompeo.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun explained the decision in more detail.
“We find the U.S.-China relationship today weighed down by a growing number of disputes, including commercial espionage and intellectual property theft from American companies; unequal treatment of our diplomats, businesses, NGOs, and journalists by Chinese authorities; and abuse of the United States’ academic freedom and welcoming posture toward international students to steal sensitive technology and research from our universities in order to advance the [People’s Republic of China (PRC)] military,” said Biegun.
“It is these factors which led the president to direct a number of actions in response, including yesterday’s notification to the PRC that we have withdrawn our consent for the PRC to operate its consulate in Houston, Texas.”
Also on Tuesday, the Department of Justice published details on an indictment against two Chinese nationals who have allegedly conducted a hacking campaign against Western companies over the past two years.
“More recently, the defendants probed for vulnerabilities in computer networks of companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, testing technology, and treatments,” reads the release.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned in May that Chinese-affiliated hackers were targeting COVID-19 research.
Chinese officials have decried the forced closure of the consulate.
“The unilateral closure of China’s consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, reportedly stated.
Global Times, a tabloid backed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), reported that Chinese officials said they would “make a legitimate and necessary response” if the United States does not “immediately correct its mistakes.”
Tensions between the United States and China have grown high since Xi Jinping, the chairman of the CCP and president of China, rose to power early last decade.
Among the litany of things causing the increased tensions, Chinese businesses have repeatedly engaged in intellectual property theft, targeting developing technologies from U.S. and Western companies.
With the development of 5G — the next generation of cellular networks that will greatly increase internet speeds — U.S. officials have expressed strong concerns about Chinese companies, particularly Huawei, that are building a 5G network.
U.S. officials are concerned that the new infrastructure could bolster CCP espionage efforts.
The coronavirus pandemic has added to the tension between the two nations, since evidence indicates that the CCP failed to act properly in containing the virus and alerting the public to it.
In the United States, the subject has become politicized, with Democrats shying away from criticisms of the CCP.
On Tuesday, Democrats rejected an addition to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have allowed the president to impose sanctions on foreign individuals engaged in hacking activity, especially as related to COVID-19 research.
While the proposal was rejected mostly along party lines by Democrats, the legislation was first introduced as a separate bill apart from the NDAA by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
Texas Republican lawmakers have introduced several other bills in Congress that aim to hold the CCP accountable for the mishandling of the coronavirus and other threats to national security.
The Texan has written about several of those bills in a series here.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.