President Donald Trump left open the possibility that more Chinese missions would be forced to close after the administration ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to shut down.
Trump, at a Wednesday CCP virus press conference, said “it’s always possible” further Chinese diplomatic outposts would be ordered to close. The State Department said earlier the Chinese mission in Houston was closed “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”
The president also referred to the fire observed at the premises of the Houston consulate, saying, “I guess they were burning documents or burning papers, and I wonder what that’s all about.”
Overnight in Houston, firefighters went to the consulate after smoke was seen. A video sent to a local news station showed several open fire pits in the courtyard. Houston police told FOX 26 that staff there were burning documents because they are being evicted from the building.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the consulate is operating normally, but did not respond to questions about documents being burned.
“Such an immediate eviction would give the Chinese little time to move all their documents and equipment, so the burning of those documents is likely to be disposal of sensitive files,” said Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
China’s foreign ministry called the closure order “an unprecedented escalation” and said Beijing would retaliate if the United States did not revoke the order. It said the United States gave the consulate 72 hours to vacate.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Denmark, did not offer specifics on the consulate’s closure, but reiterated warnings about the Chinese regime’s long-running campaign to steal American intellectual property. He referred to the federal indictment on Tuesday of two Chinese hackers who prosecutors allege were involved in a decade-long campaign to steal trade secrets and sensitive information from defense contractors, COVID-19 researchers, and hundreds of other victims worldwide.
“President Trump has said, ‘Enough.’ We’re not going to allow this to continue to happen,” Pompeo told reporters on July 22. “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.”
He added, “That’s the actions that you’re seeing taken by President Trump. We’ll continue to engage in those.”
According to the New York Times, David R. Stilwell, the State Department’s head for East Asia and the Pacific, said the Houston consul general and two other diplomats were recently caught using false IDs to escort Chinese travelers to a charter flight at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.
Stilwell said the Houston consulate “has a history of engaging in subversive behavior,” and was the “epicenter” of the Chinese military’s efforts to steal American research, the NY Times reported.
It is likely the regime will retaliate by requiring a U.S. consulate in China to close, Cheng said in a statement. The United States and China each have five diplomatic compounds in each other’s countries.
James Carafano, vice president of the Heritage Foundations’ institute for national security and foreign policy, said the move was “incredibly consistent with what this administration has been doing for four years.”
“Chinese policies—the so-called ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy and their covert operations—have gotten more aggressive, and as they’ve gotten more aggressive, I think the United States has been more willing to respond to that,” Carafano said in a statement.
He told The Epoch Times the administration has escalated action to ensure reciprocity in its relationship with the communist regime.
“We’ve allowed the Chinese to exploit the freedoms of American society,” Carafano said. “The Chinese don’t give us nearly that kind of access in China, and we don’t kind of do anything about it.”
The use of consulates and Chinese nationals in conducting espionage, he said, “is clearly something where we’ve let the Chinese take advantage of us.”
The State Department earlier this year designated nine Chinese state-run media outlets as foreign missions, raising restrictions on their operations on U.S. soil. The move was described by the administration as an act in reciprocity against Beijing’s continued use of “intimidation to silence members of a free and independent press.”
Trump in May banned entry to Chinese graduate-level or higher students from universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army to counter the regime’s state-sanctioned economic espionage.
Reuters and Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.