China threatens retaliation after US orders closure of Houston consulate

The State Department said the directive was issued 'to protect American intellectual property'

China on Wednesday condemned what it called an “unprecedented escalation" by the United States and threatened to retaliate after it was ordered to close the Chinese consulate in Houston.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a daily news briefing that the government had been told without warning Tuesday to close the consulate.

He said the consulate had been operating normally Tuesday and called the reported move an “unprecedented escalation," the South China Morning Post reported.

“China demands the U.S. revoke the wrong decision. If the U.S. went ahead, China would take necessary countermeasures,” Wang said.

A firetruck is positioned outside the Chinese Consulate Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Houston. Authorities responded to reports of a fire at the consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to police. China says the U.S. has ordered it to close its consulate in Houston in what it called a provocation that violates international law. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

A firetruck is positioned outside the Chinese Consulate Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Houston. Authorities responded to reports of a fire at the consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, according to police. China says the U.S. has ordered it to close its consulate in Houston in what it called a provocation that violates international law. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In a statement sent to Fox News, State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus confirmed the directive and said it was issued "to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information.”

The U.S. "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. "President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in U.S.-China relations."

Documents were burned inside the consulate’s courtyard Tuesday evening, KPRC-TV in Houston reported.

"You could just smell the paper burning,” a witness told the station. “But, all the firefighters were just surrounding the building. They couldn’t go inside.”

"The US asked China to close Consulate General in Houston in 72 hours. This is a crazy move," Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times wrote on Twitter.

KPRC reported that the consulate was ordered to close by Friday along with a compound where many consulate employees live, citing police sources.

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Beijing called the eviction a violation of international law, according to Reuters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.