US orders China to close Houston consulate amid swirling accusations of espionage, theft

China has vowed to retaliate after what they call an 'unprecedented escalation' of the US's actions against China

HOUSTON – The U.S. has ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in what a Chinese official called an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage relations between the two countries.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin condemned the action, which comes at a time of rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies. He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse its decision.

“The unilateral closure of China’s consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China,” Wang said at a daily news briefing.

WATCH: Videos show flames, activity in courtyard of Consulate General of China in Houston

The U.S. said in a brief statement that the consulate was ordered closed “to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.” It did not provide any details.

“The United States will not tolerate the PRC’s violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior. President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in U.S.-China relations,” said Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson. “We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and American’s private information.”

During a coronavirus press briefing, President Donald Trump was asked if he would close more Chinese “embassies.”

EXPLAINED: Most important things to know about what’s going on with the Consulate General of China in Houston