China's Houston consulate closure linked to Covid-19 research, says United States official

China's Houston consulate closure linked to Covid-19 research, says United States official”

At least 10 bags were removed from the building in the early hours of the morning.

Earlier Sunday, a bus left the consulate grounds and what appeared to be embassy staff spoke with plainclothes police before retreating back behind the property's solid black gates.

"The PRC Consulate in Houston has directed economic espionage and other activities contrary to US law not only in the city of Houston but across the entire southeastern United States", according to the State Department. It was unclear who or what was inside.

US-China relations spiralled down this week, when the Chengdu mission was told to shut in retaliation for the forced closure of Beijing's consulate in Houston, Texas, with both sides alleging the other had endangered national security.

U.S. federal agents and local law enforcement entered the Chinese consulate compound in Houston earlier Friday in a series of black SUVs, trucks, two white vans and a locksmith's van as a crowd of observers and news cameras observed from the edge of the diplomatic compound.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin has said some personnel at the Chengdu consulate were "conducting activities not in line with their identities" and had interfered in China's affairs and harmed its security interests. Officials there were seen loading large sacks of documents and other items onto trucks, and throwing some in bins.

Chinese authorities refused to let the USA officials leave Wuhan with the pouches, saying they had to search them before leaving, an aggressive move that violates the Vienna Convention which governs diplomatic relations.

"Although the direction of history is sometimes tortuous due to the interference of a few people, the friendship between the Chinese and American people will not be interrupted, and the bright prospects of friendly cooperation between China and the United States can not be stopped by anyone", he wrote.

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The Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the United States action in a statement released on Saturday.

The statement added that "China will make a proper and necessary response in this regard".

Besides the outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late previous year, the two countries are also sparring over Hong Kong's autonomy, the treatment of ethnic minorities in China's western Xinjiang region and Beijing's military expansion in the South China Sea.

According to media reports, the USA 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".

China on Friday ordered the closure of the Chengdu consulate in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said the agency has more than 2,000 investigations across the country linking to China.

The consulate opened in 1985 and has nearly 200 employees, including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website. It was included on a top-secret map leaked by intelligence analyst Edward Snowden showing USA surveillance worldwide.

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