US orders China to close Houston consulate in 3 days

Move follows espionage indictments against two Chinese nationals

The flag of China flies outside the Chinese Consulate General in Houston on July 22. © AP

BEIJING/NEW YORK — The U.S. has ordered China to shut its consulate in Houston within three days, a move that Washington said defends America but which Beijing denounced as an “unprecedented escalation” of tensions.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday the closure was intended “to protect American intellectual property” and private information, without explaining why the Houston consulate was singled out.

Attention now turns to what retaliatory action Beijing may take. Reuters reported Wednesday that Beijing looks to order the closure of the American consulate in Wuhan.

The move against the consulate in the Texas city came on the same day as the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new indictment of two Chinese nationals over alleged cyberespionage against defense contractors, coronavirus researchers and other targets.

“The timing suggests that it is not a coincidence,” James Carafano, a national security and foreign policy fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the Nikkei Asian Review. “The U.S. is sending a signal that the Chinese are crossing a red line with their recent activity.”

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