The Chinese consulate in Houston was a "massive spy center," lawmakers say—and the fact that officials were seen burning documents at the Texas facility after the government ordered it to close seems to confirm it. The Houston Fire Department, which was praised by Chinese officials after putting out a fire at the consulate three years ago, was denied entry to the facility after nearby residents reported the fires on Tuesday, NBC reports. Lawmakers including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio praised the decision to close the consulate, with Rubio describing it as the "central node of the Communist Party's vast network of spies" in the US, reports the Houston Chronicle. The consulate "is a massive spy center, forcing it to close is long overdue," he tweeted. More:
- A "hot spot" for espionage. Officials tell NBC that the Houston consulate has long been considered a "hot spot" for Chinese espionage, including attempts to access medical research and infiltrate the oil and natural gas industries.
- Years of warnings. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the committee has been holding briefings on Chinese spying with business leaders for years. He says he believes the FBI had intelligence that led to the order Tuesday for the consulate to cease all operations within 72 hours.
- Retaliation could be on the way. Sources tell Reuters that China, which called the US move "outrageous," is considering closing the US consulate in Wuhan in response, though an editorial in the state-run Global Times called for closing the larger consulate in Hong Kong to cause the US "much pain." The US also has consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang, as well as an embassy in Beijing.
- Poll asks which consulate to close. In a poll posted on Twitter, the Global Times asked readers which American consulate Beijing should close—Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Chengdu, or "Other." A critic pointed out that Twitter is banned in China, "and so is voting."
- "Malicious slander." A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Thursday that American accusations that Chinese spies tried to steal data from the Texas A&M medical system, among others, are "malicious slander," the AP reports. "This is breaking down the bridge of friendship between the Chinese and American people," Wang Wenbin told reporters.
- Trump says more consulates could close. President Trump said Wednesday that it is "always possible" that he could order the closure of more Chinese consulates in the US, reports the BBC. China still has consulates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, as well as its DC embassy. (The FBI says a biologist fled to the San Francisco consulate last month after agents accused her of lying about her links to the Chinese military.)