China says the US has ordered it to close its Houston consulate in what it called a provocation that violates international law. There was no immediate confirmation or explanation from the US side.
The move comes as tensions soar between the world's two biggest economies on a number of fronts, including a controversial national security law in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday that the US had abruptly demanded the previous day that the consulate cease all operations.
He said that China strongly condemns “such an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage China-US relations”.
Consulate closed to 'protect' US intellectual property
The US State Department said that the closing of China's consulate was to protect Americans' intellectual property and private information.
"We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information," State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus told reporters during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Copenhagen, adding that under the Vienna Convention states "have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs" of the receiving state.
China may shut US Wuhan consulate
China is considering ordering the closure of the US consulate in the central city of Wuhan, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.
China's foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but at a media briefing earlier on Wednesday warned of possible retaliation over the US decision.
The US embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Media reports in Houston said that authorities had responded to reports of a fire at the consulate.
According to local media in Houston, firefighters and police were called to the consulate building on Tuesday evening on reports that documents were being burned in the building’s courtyard.
The Twitter feed of the Houston police force said smoke was observed, but officers "were not granted access to enter the building".
Beijing accuses US of slander
Meanwhile, Beijing accused the US of "slander" after two Chinese nationals were indicted for seeking to steal coronavirus vaccine research and hacking hundreds of companies.
"The Chinese government is a staunch defender of cybersecurity, and has always opposed and cracked down on cyber attacks and cybercrime in all forms," Wenbin said.
The US must "immediately stop its slander and smearing of China on cybersecurity issues," he told a press briefing.
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