China’s consulate in Houston officially closed

China’s consulate in Houston officially closed
Officials load bags full of belongings from the China’s Consulate into the back of a moving truck in Houston, Texas, US on July 24.
Houston, Jul 25 | Publish Date: 7/25/2020 12:08:00 PM IST

The Chinese consulate in the US city of Houston officially closed after over four decades on Friday as the US-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 US 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 US. 

In a tit-for-tat move, China too on Friday ordered the US to close down its consulate in Chengdu. While ordering the closure, China had accused the US 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 US 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. 

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 pm 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. 

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 US 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 US cities--Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

Tight security outside US Chengdu consulate

Security was tight outside the US consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu on Saturday as staff inside prepared to leave, a day after China ordered it to close in response to a US order for China to shut its consulate in Houston.

A consulate emblem inside the compound was removed as staff could be seen pushing trolleys and several consulate vehicles came and went.

Police, including many plain clothes officers, gathered outside and closed off the street to traffic.

Neither the consulate in the southwestern Chinese city nor the US embassy in Beijing have responded to requests for comment on the closure. The US consulate in Chengdu was given 72 hours to close.

The consulate opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees, including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was not immediately clear how many are there now after US diplomats were evacuated from China because of the pandemic.

A steady stream of people walked along the street opposite the entrance, many stopping to take photos or videos.

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