International

Chinese consulate in Houston shuts after four decades

Consulate workers carry diplomatic bags from the Consulate General of China in Houston.   | Photo Credit: AP

The Chinese consulate in the U.S. city of Houston officially closed after over four decades on Friday as the U.S.-China relations hit a new low.

Tensions between both nations have escalated in recent months over the Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s crackdown on its Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang and Beijing imposing a controversial national security law in Hong Kong.

According to media reports, the U.S. had asked China to close down its Consulate General in Houston within 72 hours, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleging that it was a hub of spying and intellectual property theft“.

Top American officials had also accused the consulate in Houston of being part of Beijing’s “espionage operations” in the U.S.

In a tit-for-tat move, China too on Friday ordered the U.S. to close down its consulate in Chengdu. While ordering the closure, China had accused the U.S. of interfering in its “internal affairs and harming national security interests”.

On Friday, the flag and the seal of the People’s Republic of China was taken down from outside the Houston consulate as U.S. officials took over the building, less than an hour after the deadline set by the Trump administration expired.

Early in the morning, the consulate staff was seen removing their belongings from the building.

Around 30 protesters with banners were seen celebrating outside the consulate.

Process complete

Moments before the eviction deadline, the Houston police set up barricades, closing off streets near the building the Chinese government has occupied for four decades.

Forty minutes after the 4 p.m. eviction deadline passed, a man believed to be a State Department official entered the consulate, along with others, after a small back door was pried open.

Federal officials and a locksmith pull on a door to make entry into the vacated Consulate General of China building on July 24, 2020, in Houston. On Tuesday, the U.S. ordered the Houston consulate closed within 72 hours, alleging that Chinese agents had tried to steal data from facilities in Texas.

Federal officials and a locksmith pull on a door to make entry into the vacated Consulate General of China building on July 24, 2020, in Houston. On Tuesday, the U.S. ordered the Houston consulate closed within 72 hours, alleging that Chinese agents had tried to steal data from facilities in Texas.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

About an hour later, the fire department crew entered the building.

Trump administration officials provided further details on Friday regarding their decision on the Houston mission, claiming the diplomatic outpost was one of several across the country facilitating influence efforts on behalf of Beijing that the U.S. government said veered into the coercive or covert”.

"The sum total of the Houston consulate’s activities went well over the line of what we’re willing to accept, and unless we disrupted it, it threatened to become even more aggressive in Houston and other Chinese consulates nationwide," a senior Justice Department official told reporters on a briefing call organised by the State Department.

Apart from now closed the Houston consulate, an embassy in Washington and an office at the United Nations, China maintained consulates in four U.S. cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 1:17:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/chinese-consulate-in-houston-shuts-after-four-decades/article32188467.ece

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