BEIJING - China on Wednesday (July 22) called the abrupt closure of its consulate general in Houston, Texas a "political provocation" from the United States and vowed firm countermeasures should Washington not reverse its decision.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a press briefing in Beijing that the move ordered on Tuesday local time "seriously violates" international laws and norms governing international relations.
"China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move, which will sabotage China-US relations. We urge the US to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision, otherwise China will make legitimate and necessary reactions," he said.
He accused the US government of stigmatising China and launching unwarranted attacks against the country's social system, harassing Chinese diplomats, and intimidating and interrogating Chinese students, even confiscating their devices.
He further claimed the US has often violated diplomatic norms by imposing restrictions on Chinese diplomats and opening diplomatic pouches. China's diplomatic staff have repeatedly received death and bomb threats, he added.
China has five other missions in the US - consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, as well as its embassy in Washington DC.
"Meanwhile personnel of the US embassy in China have long been engaging in infiltration and interference activities... If we compare the two, it is only too evident which is engaged in interference, infiltration and confrontation," he said.
The US has diplomatic missions in six mainland Chinese cities -- Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, Wuhan and its embassy in Beijing.
The Chinese consulate was ordered to shut to protect intellectual properly and US intelligence, a US government spokeswoman said.
"We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information," State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus told reporters during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Copenhagen, adding that under the Vienna Convention states "have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs" of the receiving state.
The foreign ministry's statement came barely an hour after the editor of the nationalistic Global Times newspaper Hu Xijin tweeted that the mission was given 72 hours to shut, calling it a "crazy move".
Hours earlier at about 8pm local time, police and firefighters descended on the consulate in Houston following reports that papers were being burnt outside in open containers.
Local TV stations KPRC and KHOU showed fires in multiple open containers, with black smoke rising out of them. Fire trucks and police cars were seen parked outside the consulate, with firefighters unable to enter the compound.
The Houston Chronicle newspaper said no injuries were reported.
Beijing and Washington have been engaged in an increasingly hostile tit for tat spat on multiple fronts, including trade, diplomacy and over the coronavirus.
Tensions have been ratcheted in recent days after increasingly strong rhetoric from senior US officials.
During a visit to London, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the "entire world" to stand up against China, whom he accused of engaging in "a cover-up and co-opting" the World Health Organization by allegedly suppressing early details of the "preventable" coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 610,000 people globally.