BEIJING: The United States has ordered China to close its Houston consulate, Beijing said Wednesday (Jul 22), in what it called a "political provocation" that will further harm diplomatic relations.
"China urges the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, or China will definitely take a proper and necessary response," said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, adding that they were told Tuesday that the consulate would have to close.
"It is a political provocation unilaterally launched by the US side, which seriously violates international law ... and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the US."
He added that China "strongly condemns" the "outrageous and unjustified move which will sabotage China-US relations."
He said the consulate was operating normally but did not reply to questions about US media reports in Houston on Tuesday night that documents were being burned in a courtyard at the consulate.
"It appears to be open burning in a container within the courtyard of the Chinese consulate facility. It does not appear to be an unconfined fire but we have not been allowed access," Houston fire department chief Samuel Pena was quoted as saying by KTRK, an ABC television affiliate.
"We are standing by and monitoring."
Houston police told FOX 26 that staff there were burning documents because they are being evicted from the building on Friday afternoon.
The closure of the consulate was directed "in order to protect American intellectual property and American's private information," spokesperson for the State Department Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
The Chinese Consulate in Houston was opened in 1979 - the first in the year the US and the People's Republic of China established diplomatic relations, according to its website.
The website says the office covers eight southern US states - including Texas and Florida - and has nearly one million people in the area registered at the consulate.
There are five Chinese consulates in the US, as well as an embassy in Washington.
READ: How hot could the US-China 'Cold War' get?
The development is another fissure in the increasingly fraught relations between the two countries. Tensions are mounting by the day, leading to a talk of a new Cold War.
US President Donald Trump's administration has increasingly gone global against China, pushing other nations to reject its strings-attached aid and telecom titan Huawei, and siding unreservedly with Beijing's rivals in the dispute-rife South China Sea.
Trump has made China a major campaign issue as he heads into the November election, but the relationship looks unlikely to change in more than tone if he loses to Joe Biden, who has accused the president of not being tough enough.
Last week, Trump signed legislation and an executive order to hold China accountable for the "oppressive" national security law it imposed on Hong Kong.
The Bill was approved by the US Congress to penalise banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s new national security law on Hong Kong.
The executive order is aimed at furthering punishing China for what he called its "oppressive actions" against Hong Kong.
It will end the preferential trade treatment Hong Kong has received for years - "no special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies," Trump told a news conference.
In addition, last week Washington formally declared Beijing's pursuit of territory and resources in South China Sea as illegal, explicitly backing the territorial claims of Southeast Asian countries against China's.
Washington has also infuriated Beijing by banning telecom giant Huawei and seeking the extradition from Canada of top company executive Meng Wanzhou.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the "entire world" to stand up to China on Tuesday during a visit to Britain.