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US: Men Seen Forcing Open Backdoor of China's Houston Consulate After Closure

Houston, USAs anti-communist activists chanted outside, Chinese officials emptied out the consulate in Houston on Friday, July 24, after the Trump administration this week gave Beijing 72 hours - until 4 p.m. on Friday- to vacate its consulate in the Texas city. 

In turn, China ordered the U.S. to close the consulate in Chengdu, a city in southwestern China's Sichuan province, continuing Beijing's recent practice of like-for-like responses to Washington's actions. About 100 Chinese activists gathered at the consulate, shouting slogans denouncing communism and heckling consulate staff. Some held American flags as they watched workers loading belongings from the five-story building into trucks. The consulate, one side of which was adorned with large red Chinese lanterns, was closed. 

People seeking visa applications were turned away, a guard said. Protesters cheered when a tractor trailer circled the building with giant signs that read: "Freedom from Communism," and "God Bless America." According to a Reuters witness, consulate staff had exited the building shortly after 4 p.m. and left in vehicles. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the consulate had been "a hub of spying and intellectual property theft." Washington and its allies must use "more creative and assertive ways" to press the Chinese Communist Party to change its ways, he said.
Shortly after a U.S. government closure order for the mission took effect at 4 p.m. Central Time, a group of men who appeared to be American officials were seen forcing open a back door of the Houston consulate. The men did not respond when asked who they were by reporters. Earlier, the same group of men was seen padlocking a door on another side of the building.

After the men went inside, two uniformed members of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security arrived to guard the door. They also did not respond to questions from reporters. The Chinese embassy and the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this activity. Senior U.S. officials said on Friday espionage activity by China's diplomatic missions was occurring all over the country, but its activity out of the Houston consulate went well over the line of what was acceptable.
A senior State Department official also linked espionage activity from that consulate to China's pursuit of research into a vaccine for the new coronavirus. Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated this year to what experts say is their lowest level in decades over issues ranging from trade and technology to the coronavirus pandemic, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.

China's foreign ministry announced Beijing's decision on the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in a statement. Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said some personnel there were "conducting activities not in line with their identities" and had interfered in China's affairs and harmed its security interests, but he did not say how.

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