Washington gave China 72 hours to shut down its operation “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information”. The move marks a dramatic escalation of tension between the world’s two biggest economies and according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry has “severely harmed” relations.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the Houston consulate on Twitter as the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies and influence operations in the United States”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, speaking at a daily media briefing, described the allegations as “malicious slander”.
He said: “In response to the US’s unreasonable actions, China must make a necessary response and safeguard its legitimate rights.
“This is tearing down the friendly bridge between the people of China and the US.
“China’s position on the China-US relationship is clear and consistent.
“As to which direction this relationship is heading, it’s an issue for the US to carefully think about.”
The South China Morning Post reported China may close the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, while a source said China was also considering shutting the US consulate in Wuhan.
Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said shutting the Wuhan consulate would be “insufficiently disruptive”.
Mr Hu said the US had a large consulate in Hong Kong which was clearly being used for espionage and intelligence-gathering.
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He said: “The US has over 1,000 staff at the Hong Kong consulate.
“What are so many people doing? It is obviously a spy centre.”
He said order the operation to reduce its personnel could be one of the many options available to China.
Mr Hu said: “Even if China doesn’t close it, it could instead cut its staff to one or two hundred.
“This will make Washington suffer much pain.”
Chinese state media editorials criticised Mr Trump’s order to shut the Houston consulate as an attempt to blame Beijing for his own failures ahead of the US presidential elections in November.
Polls show President Donald Trump trailing his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, ahead of the November 3 ballot as the worsening coronavirus crisis exacts a deep toll on the US.
The official China Daily described the closure of the consulate as “a new gambit in the US administration’s bid to paint China as a malevolent actor on the world stage, and thus make it an outlaw to the international community”.
It said: “The move shows that lagging behind his presidential election opponent in the polls, the US leader is going all out in his attempts to portray China as an agent of evil.”