U.S. agents enter Chinese consulate compound in Houston after closing deadline

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A series of black SUVs, trucks, two white vans and a locksmith van entered the property as a host of watchers and news cameras observed from the edge of the diplomatic compound.

U.S. officials spoke to reporters on Friday said the consulate was involved in a fraud investigation at a Texas research institution and that Chinese consulate officials “were directly involved in communications with researchers and have guided on the information to be collected ”.

The activities of consulate officials in Houston “are, in our opinion, a microcosm of a larger network of individuals in more than 25 cities, this network is supported by the consulates here,” a ministry official said on Friday. American Justice. “The consulates have given members of this network advice on how to avoid [and] hamper our investigation. And you can infer the ability to charge this [a] network of associates throughout the country. ”

The United States had given China about 72 hours to “cease all operations and events” at the Houston facility on Tuesday, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which called the move “an unprecedented escalation.” amid persistent tensions between the two countries.

Relations between China and the United States have plummeted over the past year, amid an ongoing trade war, the coronavirus pandemic and American criticism of China’s human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.Washington’s demand to shut down the Houston consulate allowed federal agents to enter the diplomatic compound on Friday afternoon. It also sparked a Chinese demand earlier on Friday for the United States to close its consulate in Chengdu.

Late Tuesday evening, Houston police said they responded to reports of smoke in the yard outside the Consulate, located on Montrose Boulevard in the city’s Midtown neighborhood. Local media shared a video of what appeared to be officials inside the compound burning documents.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Wednesday that the consulate was to close “in order to protect American intellectual property and American private information.”

The idea of ​​shutting down the Houston consulate emerged this spring after Chinese meddling when U.S. officials returned to the Wuhan consulate to retrieve diplomatic documents, according to a senior State Department official.

Chinese authorities have refused to let U.S. officials leave Wuhan with the bags, saying they must search them before leaving, an aggressive move that violates the Vienna Convention that governs diplomatic relations. The meeting left Secretary of State Mike Pompeo angry, the State Department official said.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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