American officials forced their way into what until Friday had been the Chinese consulate in Houston within an hour of the formal time set for China to close the outpost, which U.S. officials suspect has been a center of espionage activity.
Gaining entry required that U.S. officials pry open a small back door, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Earlier Friday, Chinese diplomats could be seen loading material into vans that left the consulate shortly before the eviction deadline. Earlier last week, Chinese officials set a fire at the consulate, presumably to destroy documents.
Closing the consulate set off a diplomatic row with China, which booted U.S. diplomats from a consulate in China.
The State Department provided a briefing to reporters Friday to explain why the Houston site was targeted. The briefers were classified as a Senior State Department Official, Senior Justice Department Official, and Senior United States Intelligence Official, according to the transcript of the briefing on the State Department’s website.
The Justice Department official, citing information released by the department of People’s Liberation Army members not disclosing their army connections when seeking to enter the U.S., said such activities are “a microcosm, we believe, of a broader network of individuals in more than 25 cities. That network is supported through the consulates here. Consulates have been giving individuals in that network guidance on how to evade and obstruct our investigation, and you can infer from that the ability to task that network of associates nationwide.”
“The Houston consulate was also implicated in an investigation of grant fraud at a Texas research institution. Consulate officials directly involved – were directly involved in communications with researchers and guided them on what information to collect,” the official said in the briefing.
The official noted that consulates engage in coercion of economic fugitives from China, lobbying local governments, and attacking pro-Hong Kong activists.
“The sum total of the Houston consulate’s activities went well over the line of what we are willing to accept, and unless we disrupted it, it threatened to become even more aggressive in Houston and at other Chinese consulates nationwide. Our focus is on disrupting this activity out of Houston as well as deterring similar activity by Chinese officials at other consulates. Closing the Houston consulate and preventing relocation of those officials accomplishes both of those goals,” the official said.
The State Department official in the briefing characterized the decision to close the Houston consulate as the U.S. deciding enough was enough.
“[T]here comes a time when you just have to say enough is enough. For years, we’ve been asking the PRC to stop these malign and criminal activities. We’ve been talking to them, explaining. We traveled to meet them in Hawaii in June, as you’ve heard, New York City last August.
“And still, Beijing continues to act egregiously and criminally. Beijing’s actions warranted a strong response as well as countermeasures, as you heard from Justice, to defend American security and American interests, and that’s what we did in Houston,” the official said.
The State Department official hinted that medical espionage was taking place in Houston.
“[I]f you look at what happened with the corona outbreak in China in 2019, they have been very clear about their intent to be the first to the – to market with a vaccine and the medical connections here aren’t lost on me. … the medical connection in Houston is also pretty specific,” he said.
The intelligence official said the primary concerns regarding the Houston consulate involved “theft of intellectual property and a lot of our technology.”
He said Chinese efforts from Houston aimed at acquiring American technology “were particularly aggressive and particularly successful, so I think that is the reason why we tended towards Houston.”
“[T]he folks in Houston were very much active participants in all the various efforts of collection and influence that the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party is doing here in the U.S.,” he said.
The intelligence official also noted that the U.S. has seen a “1,300 percent increase in cases related to economic espionage and China over the last 10 years.”
The official said America’s intelligence agencies “have about 2,000 active counterintelligence investigations tied to the – to China, and we open a new case about every 10 hours, just to give you a perspective on how much work we have here.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.