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Houston’s Chinese community shocked, fearful after ‘extremely rare’ US move to close consulate

HOUSTON – While the tensions escalate between China and the United States, members of Houston’s Chinese and Chinese American communities are becoming increasingly worried about the fallout of the political battle and how it will impact their lives, families, businesses and safety.

Tuesday, the US ordered China to “cease all operations and events at the Houston consulate” — a move that has sent shockwaves through the community.

“It is a huge impact to all of us. I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen,” said Helen Shih, a member of the Chinese community in Houston.

”I was surprised. This is an extremely rare kind of action to take,” said Dr. Hans Stockton, the Dean of the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Global Studies at the University of St. Thomas. “Closing a consulate can be seen as an attempt to interfere with the smooth process of diplomacy.”

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

Chinese and Chinese American communities in Houston said local Houstonians, families and friends are getting caught in the middle of the political crossfire. Gordon Quan, a former Houston City Councilman, immigration lawyer and board member of the Asia Society said there has been an increase in unjust discrimination against the Chinese community in Greater Houston.

“There’s been a sense of paranoia in the Chinese community because for the past couple of years there’s been an ongoing investigation of Chinese Americans to the United States and this just exasperates the situation,” Quan said. “People have looked accusingly at China...The ‘Chinese Flu,’ ‘Kung Flu,’ as such, we have seen an increase in incidences aimed at Asian Americans — especially Chinese. So, to have the consulate close, to have accusations being made that this is the hotspot for spying, just creates a further cast upon the loyalties of Chinese Americans.”

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

With the consulate instructed to shut its doors, Quan is among many who worry about the valuable services the consulate provides for the more than 215,300 Chinese Americans who live in Texas. The Consulate General of China in Houston, which opened its doors in 1979, is a major hub for consular services, serving all of the South and Southeast regions of the United States.

“This is all we have,” Shih said. “Often, we have friends who travel long distances just to come to Houston to get their paperwork done, passport, visas and documents. So what’s going to happen to them?”

The feeling of uncertainly was shared by Brian Liu, another member of Houston’s Chinese community.

“For regular people, for regular businesses, the Chinese Consulate in Houston gives us a lot of convenience. There will be a lot of extra cost if this consulate closes,” Liu said.

They said the consulate closure would slow processes and put a strain on what would be the five remaining Chinese diplomatic missions in the US. Besides the Houston consulate, China’s diplomatic missions in the US include the embassy in Washington, D.C. and consulates in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

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

“Texas is such a major business partner with China— the oil industry, the medical industry — so many industries. We have people constantly going back and forth getting their visas here at the Chinese consulate going to China. It’s going to hamper business opportunities. It’s going to hamper cultural exchange,” Quan said.

Liu said the Chinese and Chinese American community in Houston love being an active part of the community.

“Pearland, Texas... Houston is my second hometown. We want to build up this hometown,” Liu said.

They said they hope the discrimination ends.

“The last few months, the Chinese community here has been trying to show that we are involved as much as anyone in fighting the COVID-19 virus — donating money, donating food, donating supplies, working on the frontlines with doctors and nurse. I’m just afraid that instead of looking at the positives, people are going to look at the negative,” Quan said.

Shih said she hopes U.S. and China relations improve.

“We hope that this conflict can be resolved in a constructive way. We certainly don’t want to see the two countries get into bigger fights because it’s not going to be helpful for anyone.”

The Chinese Embassy in the United States released the following statement Thursday:

"On July 21, the US abruptly demanded that the Chinese Consulate-General in Houston cease all operations and events within a time limit. It is a political provocation unilaterally launched by the US side, which seriously violates international law, basic norms governing international relations and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the US. China strongly condemns and firmly opposes such an outrageous and unjustified move which sabotages China-US relations.

China is committed to the principle of non-interference in other countries' domestic affairs. Over the years, Chinese diplomatic missions in the US, including the Consulate-General in Houston, have been performing duties in strict accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and are dedicated to promoting China-US exchanges and cooperation and advancing the two peoples' mutual understanding and friendship. The US accusations are groundless fabrications, and the excuses it cites are far-fetched and untenable. For the US side, if it is bent on attacking China, it will never be short of excuses.

As for reciprocity, China has been providing facilitation for US diplomatic missions and personnel pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In contrast, the US imposed unjustified restrictions on Chinese diplomatic personnel last October and in June, unscrupulously and repeatedly opened China's diplomatic pouches and seized China's official goods. Because of the willful and reckless stigmatization and fanning up of hatred by the US side, the Chinese Embassy in the US has received threats to the safety and security of Chinese diplomatic missions and personnel more than once.

At the same time, the US side has more diplomatic and consular missions and personnel in China than China has in the US, another area where the principle of reciprocity is not reflected. The move of the US side will only backfire on itself.

We urge the US side to immediately revoke this erroneous decision. Otherwise, China will have to respond with legitimate and necessary actions.”