U.S. Orders China’s Houston Consulate To Close, Citing ‘Massive Illegal Spying’

The United States ordered China to shutter its consulate in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday, accusing the communist government of a “marked increase” in spying operations over the past few years.

The U.S. gave Chinese officials at the consulate 72 hours to move out before being evicted. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) suggested that any Chinese agents from the consulate who don’t leave the country within 72 hours would be arrested as spies.

The consulate is one of five in the U.S., not including the Chinese embassy in Washington.

A statement from a State Department spokesperson accused China of having “engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations,” which have “increased markedly in scale and scope over the past few years.”

Additionally, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told Fox News that the U.S. “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.”

Ortagus said the decision to close the consulate was made to “protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.”

China responded by calling the consulate closure an “unprecedented escalation” between the two countries. “China urges the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, or China will definitely take a proper and necessary response,” responded Wang Webin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry.

Global News, a Chinese state media outlet, posted a poll on Twitter asking respondents which U.S. consulate in China should be closed in retaliation.

Shortly after the consulate received orders to close, Houston police reported the burning of classified documents at the consulate on Tuesday evening. The police and fire departments received a call of a fire at the consulate around 8:20 p.m. on Tuesday evening. They were denied entry to the building, but told Fox 26 Houston that classified documents were being burned.

Rubio noted that the destruction of documents at a closing embassy is not unusual. “Every country does it,” he said. “When your embassy or consulate is closed, they start destroying everything in there.”

Rubio also tweeted support for the decision to close the consulate, calling it a “massive spy center” and the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies.”

Bloomberg News reported that multiple Chinese citizens “have been convicted of stealing energy industry trade secrets in Houston in recent years.”

The decision to close the Houston consulate comes after the Trump administration spent the past week cracking down on the Chinese Communist Party. Attorney General Bill Barr slammed Hollywood and American corporate elites for appeasing the Chinese government, and the Trump administration is reported to be considering visa bans on members of the CCP. Meanwhile, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which opens the door to imposing sanctions on businesses or officials that help enforce China’s new “security law” against the people of Hong Kong.