U.S. Orders China to Close Houston Consulate, Citing Efforts to Steal Trade Secrets | World Defense

U.S. Orders China to Close Houston Consulate, Citing Efforts to Steal Trade Secrets

Gripen9

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U.S. Orders China to Close Houston Consulate, Citing Efforts to Steal Trade Secrets
The Trump administration accused Chinese citizens of stealing scientific research and told the country’s diplomats in Texas to leave. Beijing warned it would retaliate.



U.S. officials said they had ordered the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston in response to repeated violations of American sovereignty.

U.S. officials said they had ordered the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston in response to repeated violations of American sovereignty.Credit...Steve Campbell/Associated Press
Edward WongLara JakesSteven Lee Myers
By Edward Wong, Lara Jakes and Steven Lee Myers
  • July 22, 2020Updated 1:58 p.m. ET
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WASHINGTON — The United States has abruptly ordered China to close its diplomatic consulate in Houston by Friday, accusing diplomats of aiding a nationwide pattern of economic espionage and attempted theft of scientific research, as part of a sharp escalation in the Trump administration’s moves against China.
China vowed to retaliate, calling the move illegal. Hours after the administration issued its order to the ambassador on Tuesday, consulate employees burned papers in open metal barrels in a courtyard of the Houston building, prompting police officers and firefighters to rush to the area.
President Trump’s campaign strategists, anxious about his failures on the pandemic, have been rolling out a blanket anti-China message to appeal to his supporters in recent weeks.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been aggressively pushing that message, said on Wednesday at a news conference in Copenhagen that the Trump administration is “setting out clear expectations as to how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave.” He warned that when they didn’t, the United States would “take actions” to protect its interests.



The State Department described the Chinese actions as “massive illegal spying and influence operations,” but provided limited details.
David R. Stilwell, who oversees policy for East Asia and the Pacific at the State Department, said some of China’s attempted scientific thefts in the United States had accelerated over the last six months, and could be related to efforts to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, although he did not present evidence of that.


He said the Houston consul general, the top Chinese official there, and two other diplomats were recently caught having used false identification to escort Chinese travelers to the gate area of a charter flight in George Bush Intercontinental Airport. He described the Houston consulate, which he said “has a history of engaging in subversive behavior,’’ as the “epicenter” of research theft by the Chinese military in the United States.
In Beijing, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged the United States to reverse the decision immediately.
“Otherwise China will certainly make legitimate and necessary reactions,” said the spokesman, Wang Wenbin. His remarks suggested that China would, at a minimum, close a U.S. consulate in China.



The consulate in Houston has about 60 employees. There are six other Chinese diplomatic missions in the United States: the embassy in Washington, an office at the United Nations and consulates in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.


The closure of the consulate in Houston may be less detrimental to U.S. relations with Beijing than shutting down a different one would be. It is the “sister” diplomatic mission to the American consulate in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged. The State Department evacuated its consulate in Wuhan after the initial outbreak; it is not clear when it might fully reopen.
Mr. Wang called the move illegal under international law, and described it as the latest in a series of aggressions.
“For some time, the United States government has been shifting the blame to China with stigmatization and unwarranted attacks against China’s social system, harassing Chinese diplomatic and consular staff in America, intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices, even detaining them without cause,” he said.
Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, said the United States had never taken such a step against China since the two countries established diplomatic relations on Jan. 1, 1979.
“If the relationship between China and the United States continues to deteriorate unchecked,” he said in a telephone interview in Beijing, “the next result will be the severing of diplomatic relations.”
The Trump administration’s decision was a significant escalation of its effort to tighten the reins on Chinese diplomats, researchers, scholars, journalists and others in the United States.



It comes during rising tensions that have been inflamed by the pandemic and Beijing’s repressive moves in Hong Kong, and that now touch on virtually all aspects of the relationship.
The restrictions have included issuing travel rules for diplomats and requiring several Chinese state news organizations to register as diplomatic entities while limiting their visas. The administration is also considering a travel ban on members of the Communist Party and their families. Such a move, if enacted, could affect an estimated 270 million people, and it has been widely criticized as too sweeping to be practical.
In May, the Trump administration announced a travel ban on students and researchers of graduate-level and higher who have ties to Chinese military institutions. Some officials estimated that would result in the expulsion of thousands of Chinese citizens from the United States.




President Trump met the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, last year.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times
The Trump administration has repeatedly accused China of attempts to steal commercial and military secrets, allegations that Beijing has rejected. Some critics say the administration’s approach could encourage prejudice against Chinese and Chinese-American researchers.
On Monday, the Justice Department announced visa fraud charges against Song Chen, a visiting Stanford University researcher accused of concealing her active membership in the Chinese military. In January, the F.B.I. announced it was seeking a Boston University student, Yanqing Ye, who had hidden her affiliation with the People’s Liberation Army when applying for a visa. American officials believe Ms. Ye is in China.


In December, the U.S. authorities arrested a Chinese cancer-cell researcher, Zaosong Zheng, at Boston Logan International Airport and charged him with trying to smuggle 21 vials of stolen biological research back to China.


In April 2019, officials at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said they were investigating several scientists for improper disclosures. The officials did not identify the scientists, two of whom had resigned. But redacted investigative reports referred to ties to China or Chinese residents or institutions.
And on Tuesday, the Justice Department said it had indicted two Chinese hackers accused of trying to steal information about coronavirus vaccine research.
There have been other clashes over suspected espionage by employees at Chinese missions. In September, the State Department secretly expelled two employees of the Chinese Embassy in Washington who were accused of driving with their wives onto a sensitive military base in Virginia. That was believed to be the first such expulsions in more than three decades. Beijing demanded a reversal of the action.
Some former officials voiced skepticism over the Trump administration’s latest move.
Daniel Russel, who served in Mr. Stilwell’s job during the Obama administration, said closing the Houston consulate “further reduces the few remaining diplomatic channels between the two sides and is a step that will prove difficult to reverse.”
“The China accusation that this move has more to do with presidential politics than with intellectual property is hard to argue with,” said Mr. Russel, now a vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute.
In 2017, the Trump administration ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco, along with two annexes near New York and Washington, in retaliation for Russian restrictions on the number of American diplomats in Moscow. Those moves stemmed from the furor over Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the fallout from which is still felt, despite Mr. Trump’s outreach to the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.



The effect of the Houston closure on relations — and travel — would in the short term be minimal compared with the diplomatic furor it has already sparked. Consulates mainly process visas for travelers visiting China; the one in Houston handled those for southern American states, from Texas to Florida. Travel between the two countries has been severely limited in any case because of the pandemic.





A State Department flight transported Americans from Wuhan, China, in February. Beijing criticized the move as stoking panic about the coronavirus outbreak.Credit...Lance King/Getty Images
The State Department began evacuating its American staff from the Wuhan consulate in late January amid the coronavirus outbreak there — a move that China at the time criticized as stoking panic. It has also significantly reduced operations at the embassy in Beijing and its other consulates, with many diplomats returning to the United States.
In recent weeks, the department has begun to slowly return diplomats and their families — only to face rigorous health screening and quarantine rules that the Americans had complained were onerous and even in violation of the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. The Houston consulate closure could add another obstacle to efforts by the American diplomats to return.
 

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People are burning documents at the Chinese Consulate in Houston, as Beijing says the US abruptly gave it 72 hours to shut it down
Sinéad Baker and John Haltiwanger
9 hours ago

Chinese consulate Houston

An image from video footage appearing to show documents being burned in the courtyard of China's Houston consulate. Twitter/ KPRC2Tulsi/Breaking 911
  • People were seen burning documents at the Chinese Consulate in Houston, and fire services were called to the scene.
  • The police told multiple outlets that people were burning documents in what appeared to be open trash cans. It is not clear what those documents were.
  • It came as China said the US ordered the consulate to be closed in an "unprecedented escalation." Chinese state media reported that the US had given China 72 hours to close it.
  • The State Department said the closing was ordered to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information.
  • China painted the decision in light of strained US-China relations, claiming the US "has repeatedly stigmatized China," and vowed to retaliate if the US did not reverse its order.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

People are burning documents at the Chinese Consulate in Houston after China said the US gave it 72 hours to close, with the State Department accusing China of threatening US sovereignty and intimidating US citizens.
The local outlet ABC 13 reported early Wednesday morning that trash cans full of documents were being burned in the consulate's courtyard.
A police official told the Houston Chronicle that witnesses saw paper being burned in what appeared to be open trash cans outside the building.
The police also told the local outlet Fox26 Houston that a fire reported at the consulate on Tuesday evening was the result of people burning documents. KPRC 2 reported that the police were told documents were being burned just after 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday.

One witness told KPRC 2: "You could just smell the paper burning."
Fox26 reported that police officers and the fire department were not allowed onto the premises as it's considered Chinese territory. The police official told the Houston Chronicle that the police were not allowed to access the building.
Video footage appears to show documents being burned outside the building:
—Breaking911 (@Breaking911) July 22, 2020
The Houston police department also tweeted about the apparent document burning.

"About 8:25 pm on Tuesday, our officers responded to a meet the firefighter call to the China Consulate General in Houston building ... Smoke was observed in an outside courtyard area," the department said. "Officers were not granted access to enter the building."
Business Insider was unable to contact the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Houston outside its working hours.
The State Department confirmed to Insider that the US ordered China to close its Houston consulate immediately.
"On July 21, the US suddenly requested China to close the Consulate General in Houston. This was a political provocation unilaterally initiated by the US against China," a Chinese Foreign Ministry representative, Wang Wenbin, said on Wednesday, calling it an "unprecedented escalation" in US-China relations.

In a statement sent to Business Insider, the US State Department representative Morgan Ortagus said: "We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and American's private information," using an abbreviation for the People's Republic of China.
"The United States will not tolerate the PRC's violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC's unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior," she added.
Wang said the move "seriously violated international law and basic norms of international relation" and damaged relations between the US and China.
"China strongly condemns this. China urges the US to immediately revoke the wrong decision," he said. "Otherwise, China will definitely make a proper and necessary response."

Hu Xijin, the editor of China's state-backed Global Times newspaper, said the US gave China just 72 hours to close the consulate.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department charged two Chinese state-backed hackers with hacking into the computer systems of hundreds of companies, governments, and individual activists and stealing their data. It is not clear whether these charges are related to the ordered closing.
China has four other consulates in the US — in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco — as well as an embassy in Washington, DC.
The Foreign Ministry statement said the Houston consulate was being closed "unilaterally" by the US "for a limited time." It did not specify a deadline given by the US.

The ministry also criticized the US's treatment of China.
"For a period of time, the US government has repeatedly stigmatized China, conducted unprovoked attacks on China's development, unreasonably made things difficult for Chinese diplomatic and consular staff in the US, and intimidated, interrogated, and confiscated personal electronic equipment from Chinese students studying in the US," it said, without giving evidence to back up its charges.
Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman, said: "President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in US-China relations."
Sen. Marco Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, celebrated the move to close the consulate in a tweet. The Florida Republican referred to the Chinese consulate in Houston as a "massive spy center."

"#China's consulate in #Houston is not a diplomatic facility. It is the central node of the Communist Party's vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States. Now that building must close & the spies have 72 hours to leave or face arrest. This needed to happen," Rubio said.
The New York Times noted that while ordering a consulate closed was a strong step, it was one that had been taken before in disputes between countries.
For example, the US ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco in 2017 after Russia restricted the number of diplomats the US could have in Moscow.
An unidentified source told Reuters that Beijing was considering closing the US consulate in the Chinese city of Wuhan in retaliation, but China's next moves remain unclear.

Tensions between the US and China have reached historic heights in the Trump era, with top experts warning that the two major powers are on the brink of a new Cold War. Though he praised China's handling of COVID-19 early on, President Donald Trump shifted to blaming Beijing for the pandemic as the US coronavirus outbreak worsened, which has exacerbated the situation. The virus was originally detected in Wuhan.
"We're essentially in the beginnings of a Cold War," Orville Schell, the director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, told Insider in May. "We are on a downward slide into something increasingly adversarial with China."
 

Gripen9

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They could, but I think they would be shooting themselves in the foot doing it. Their economy is closely tied to the the US's
Do you see an amicable resolution or tit for tat escalation?
 

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Curious what Chinese response would be to this escalation?

China owns $1.07T (5%) of total US debt in form of tresury bills. Can they "divest" from it?

@mtime7 @Bundeswehr @Falcon29
Not sure if this the same consulate where a fire alarm went off as they were burning some papers? Not sure how Chinese-US relations will look like moving forward but it seems whole US establishment sees need to confront China's growth and it requires some cooperation from Europe as well. So far UK-US-Australia seem to be spearheading this effort and I'm sure it's only the beginning.
 

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Not sure if this the same consulate where a fire alarm went off as they were burning some papers? Not sure how Chinese-US relations will look like moving forward but it seems whole US establishment sees need to confront China's growth and it requires some cooperation from Europe as well. So far UK-US-Australia seem to be spearheading this effort and I'm sure it's only the beginning.
Same consulate.
 

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I've no idea if China would respond, but possibly but I don't see it being more of hitting US Dollar sort of thing in that way, but rather increasing tariffs and increasing economic ties with certain NATO Countries (Italy, Germany, etc.) the reason I say that, is because China has inked numerous deals with Berlin once before to counter US politically, and Berlin is 50/50 when it comes to Trump.

anyways, while Trump ordered the forced shut down of a Chinese consulate in Houston, Chinese officials in the consulate were reported to be burning a number of documents, but I wonder what “¡¡“
 

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the reason Trump chose Houston, was because Houston was starting to become a major hotspot for the Chinese, including arresting a professor at one of Houston's universities and another 3 for fraud charges and so many other controversial problems that plague that city. another thing that hit the fan, was a Chinese researcher was arrested for fraudulent charges in San Francisco and hid in their consulate (I see Trump now going after this one). This also goes back to last year when a Harvard professor + 2 Chinese nationals were arrested for being paid by the Chinese govt. + the nationals arrested for spying.

anyways, this is not a surprise, the US in the midst of an election campaign and with that being said, Trump promised to be tougher on China and has proven to do so, but his ratings are still low and he is loosing some followers (believe it or not), so this cheap political gut shot of saying "hey, I'd just kicked China out vote for me".
 

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i agree all this is being done by Trump to show the voters that he is tough on China. As he is blamed that he has a soft heart for Putin and Xi. Remember what Bolton said in his book, Trump asked for Xi help to win the election. I think by being tough on China he is trying to negate Bolton's statement.
 

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i agree all this is being done by Trump to show the voters that he is tough on China. As he is blamed that he has a soft heart for Putin and Xi. Remember what Bolton said in his book, Trump asked for Xi help to win the election. I think by being tough on China he is trying to negate Bolton's statement.
I wouldn't trust Bolton's book as far as I could pee on it. Was watching a program and they had one of Bolton's (friends) on, he said that some of the stuff in his book completely contradicts what we had talked about in private, and he doesn't know what the truth is. Got to remember these people have a financial purpose in writing these books.
 

TsAr

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I wouldn't trust Bolton's book as far as I could pee on it. Was watching a program and they had one of Bolton's (friends) on, he said that some of the stuff in his book completely contradicts what we had talked about in private, and he doesn't know what the truth is. Got to remember these people have a financial purpose in writing these books.
I am not saying whatever Bolton said is true or false, I never liked him, but since he was in a powerful position and whatever he says carries some significance, Trump has to negate his narrative being so close to the elections, and yes you are right Bolton did write the book for monetary purpose and also to do harm to Trump's campaign.
 

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