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‘Where’s the proof?’ China’s consul general in Houston says US spying claims further damage relations

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 23/7/2020 Kinling Lo
a large tall tower with a clock on the side of a building: The US said the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston was necessary to protect intellectual property and citizens’ private information. Photo: AFP © AFP The US said the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston was necessary to protect intellectual property and citizens’ private information. Photo: AFP

China's consul general in Houston, Texas, said the forced closure of his country's diplomatic compound by Washington was yet another move that would be "damaging" to already fraying US-China relations.

Cai Wei spoke of his surprise on receiving notice from the Chinese embassy in Washington on Tuesday that his consulate " which was the first to open in the US in 1979 to help usher in a new era of developing relations " had to close in 72 hours.

"I never expected (to be) treated like this," Cai told local broadcaster ABC13 from inside the consulate general building. "We are coming for friendship and for mutual understanding between China and the United States."

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Cai, who became head of the Houston consulate last year, will now leave as another casualty of the souring relations between the world's two biggest economies as they jostle for global influence and power. Washington has labelled China a threat to the world order, while Beijing says the US is trying to prevent its development.

What started as a sharp escalation of trade disputes two years ago has now spread into arguments involving human rights, the Hong Kong protests, Taiwan's status and technology espionage. Chinese and US warships are also increasingly facing off in the South China Sea in territorial disputes in that region.

On Wednesday, the US state department said the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston was to "protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information".

In a separate statement it said China "has engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations" and that those "activities have increased markedly in scale and scope over the past few years".

US intelligence agencies said separately that China was now the largest espionage threat faced by the US.

At the end of last year, two Chinese diplomats were secretly expelled for alleged spying, The New York Times reported in December, citing people familiar with the incident.

At a Chinese foreign ministry press briefing on Wednesday, Beijing said it would retaliate and described the move as "a political provocation".

Regarding the espionage allegations by the state department, Cai said the US needed to provide the evidence behind such accusations.

"Say something from the facts, this is the basic requirement for diplomats," he said. "I know (Americans) call that the rule of law and that you are not guilty until you're proven (guilty) ... where's the proof?"

a fire hydrant on a city street at night: Fire trucks respond to reports of a fire at the Chinese consulate in Houston on Tuesday. Photo: AP © Provided by South China Morning Post Fire trucks respond to reports of a fire at the Chinese consulate in Houston on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Local police and fire department vehicles arrived at the consulate on Tuesday evening after local residents reported smoke coming from the premises.

Houston local media reported that police and fire officials said documents were being burned in the courtyard.

Cai said it was a "standard" move for diplomatic compounds from many countries to burn internal documents before leaving a foreign post.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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