U.S. orders closure of China's Houston consulate, prompting furious response from Beijing

The State Department has ordered the closure of China's Houston consulate in a move that the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday called an "outrageous and unjustified" provocation.

The move was just the latest incident in a relationship between the two superpowers that has become increasingly strained.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the U.S. was acting to "protect American intellectual property and American's private information."

On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced an indictment charging two Chinese nationals — both in China — with hacking governments, dissidents, human rights activists and private companies, including those engaged in COVID-19 vaccine research.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned it would retaliate if the U.S. did not reverse the decision.

"The U.S. abruptly demanded that China’s Consulate General in Houston cease all operations and events," the spokesperson said. "China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move which will sabotage China-U.S. relations."

Emergency services had earlier attended the Chinese consulate after responding to reports of a fire but were denied access, Houston Police Department said. Under the Vienna Convention, which covers diplomatic missions, countries can refuse access requests from the host country.

President Donald Trump has regularly clashed with China over trade, accusing the country of taking advantage of the U.S.

The president has further angered the Chinese by blaming the coronavirus pandemic on China, and frequently refers to COVID-19 as the "China virus" and "kung flu."

Hong Kong has proved to be another flashpoint with the administration angering China by siding with pro-democracy protesters in the former British colony of Hong Kong. The U.S. has also joined the U.K., Australia and Canada in suspending an extradition treaty with the territory following the imposition of a controversial new security law by the Chinese government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited British Prime Minister Johnson in London Tuesday in a meeting where the pair discussed Hong Kong and the need to protect against security threats from the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Pompeo also met with a group of British lawmakers who are particularly hawkish on China.

An article in China's Global Times — an outlet that's close to the ruling Communist Party — suggested that China could order the closure of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong in response to the State Department's latest decision.