US orders Chinese consulate in Houston to close after coronavirus vaccine hack accusations

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The United States has ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said on Wednesday.

“We have ordered the closure of the PRC Consulate General in Houston, in order to protect US intellectual property and US private information,” Ortagus said in an emailed statement.

The decision comes less than 24 hours after US prosecutors indicted two Chinese hackers for attempted theft of US research into Covid-19 vaccines.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have intensified since the start of the coronavirus pandemic a few months ago.

China said on Wednesday that the consulate’s closure was “an unprecedented escalation” and that it would retaliate without the US dismissal.

The US government has not explained why the Chinese consulate in Texas was targeted, which has until Friday to close.

China was now considering ordering the closure of the US consulate in Wuhan, according to a source.

The United States has four other Chinese consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenyang – in addition to its embassy in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the consulate would continue to operate normally, but declined to comment on local reports that officials were burning paper documents.

“The unilateral closure of the Chinese Consulate General in Houston in a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of his recent actions against China,” Wenbin added.

“We urge the United States to immediately revoke this flawed decision. If he insists on taking this wrong path, China will respond with firm countermeasures, ”he said.

Mr. Wang also accused the US government of harassing Chinese diplomats and consular personnel, as well as “intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices, and even detaining them.”

Houston police officers responded to “a call to meet firefighters” at the Chinese consulate building, where smoke was observed in an outdoor courtyard.

Officers were not allowed to enter the building.

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