The United States has ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in what a Chinese official called an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage relations between the two countries.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin condemned the action, which comes at a time of rising tensions between the world's two largest economies. He warned of firm countermeasures if the US does not reverse its decision.
"The unilateral closure of China's consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China," Wang said at a daily news briefing.
Besides its embassy in Beijing, the US has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.
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The US said in a brief statement that the consulate was ordered closed "to protect American intellectual property and American's private information." It did not provide any details.
"The United States will not tolerate the PRC's [People's Republic of China'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," said State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus.
Media reports in Houston said authorities had responded to reports of a fire at the Chinese Consulate. Witnesses said people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, the Houston Chronicle reported, citing police.
Police were told occupants were given until 4pm on Friday local time to leave the property, the Chronicle said.
Houston police said in a tweet that officers responded to a "meet the firefighter" call at the Chinese Consulate building at 3417 Montrose Boulevard. The tweet said smoke was observed in an outdoor courtyard area, and officers were not allowed to enter the building.