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.
Besides its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.
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.
Media reports in Houston said that authorities had responded to reports of a fire at the Chinese Consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, the Houston Chronicle reported, citing police.
"It appears to be open burning in a container within the courtyard of the Chinese consulate facility. It does not appear to be an unconfined fire but we have not been allowed access. We are standing by and monitoring," said Chief Sam Pena.
The Chinese Consulate was told to close the building by this Friday.
Houston police said in a tweet that officers responded to "a meet the firefighter" call at the Chinese Consulate building at 3417 Montrose Blvd. The tweet said that smoke was observed in an outdoor courtyard area, and that officers were not allowed to enter the building.
The state department issued the following statement regarding the fire:
"The Vienna Convention states diplomats must "respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State" and "have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State. 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."