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Chinese officials at the diplomatic consulate in Houston reportedly rushed to burn “classified documents” after the Trump administration ordered the consulate to close by this Friday under suspicion that American intellectual information was in danger.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus confirmed the news Tuesday that the consulate had been shut down and workers were being evicted in order “to protect American intellectual property.”
Within hours of the order, according to the Houston Chronicle, witnesses spotted workers at the consulate using barrels to burn paperwork in the courtyard.
The fire was so large that the Houston Fire Department was called, but when police and firefighters arrived they were denied entry.
“Police say a fire that was reported at the Chinese Consulate in Houston Tuesday evening, was the result of classified documents being burned,” KRIV-TV reported. “Houston fire and police departments responded to the scene but were not allowed entry into the building.”
In a brief statement, which did not provide further detail on why the Houston consulate was targeted, Ortagus 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.”
What’s the background?
The U.S. has been stepping up action of late against the Chinese Communist Party’s long-running intellectual property theft.
The Department of Justice and FBI charged two Chinese nationals on Tuesday for allegedly “hacking into the computer systems of hundreds of victim companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States and abroad, including Hong Kong and China.”
The DOJ alleged that the Chinese nationals conducted a hacking campaign against 11 countries over the last decade and recently tried to steal research from “companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, testing technology, and treatments.”
The news came as the Trump administration considers banning the Beijing-based tech company, TikTok.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the consulate shutdown “an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage relations between the two countries.”
“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 said during a news briefing in Beijing, according to the Associated Press.
Axios noted that something similar happened in 2017 when the Russian consulate in San Francisco was ordered to close — black smoke was seen coming from the chimney.
Firefighters were also denied entry into the building during that incident and a firefighter told AP they were “burning something in the fireplace.”