Washington has ordered the Chinese government to immediately close its consulate in Houston, Texas.
In a statement to the press, the Chinese Foreign Ministry decried the order and referred to it as an “unprecedented escalation” amid tensions between the two countries.
US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said that the order to “cease all operations and events” was given “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.” Ortagus did not elaborate further on the move.
Amid the closure of the consulate, the Houston Fire Department and Houston Police Department responded to reports that documents were being burned. Local news station KPRC2 shared video appearing to show documents being burned in trash cans.
“Houston police say they began receiving the reports that documents were being burned just after 8 p.m. at 3417 Montrose Boulevard where the Consulate General of China is located,” Click 2 Houston reports. “A small amount of smoke could be seen and smelled from outside. Dozens of Houston first responders are at the scene.”
Relations between China and the United States have been at an all time low since President Trump signed a bill sanctioning Chinese businesses and banks that aid in the restriction of Hong Kong’s autonomy following the Chinese government’s takeover.
Politico reported that the sanctions bill “marks the Trump administration’s latest move to punish China for its new national security law that US officials, lawmakers and legal experts say effectively ends the former British colony’s separate legal system.”
The Trump administration also banned 11 Chinese companies from buying American technology and products without a special license, stating that the firms were “complicit in human rights violations in China’s campaign targeting Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region,” the New York Times reported.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry describes the order to close its Houston consulate a “political provocation unilaterally launched by the US side.
They stated that the move “seriously violates international law, basic norms governing international relations and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the US."
The Chinese government claims that the “wanton stigmatization and incitement of hatred” towards China has led to bomb threats and death threats against its diplomatic agencies and personnel in the US.
“China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move which will sabotage China-US relations,” it added. “We urge the US to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision, otherwise China will make legitimate and necessary reactions.”