The US State Department on July 23 ordered the closure within 72 hours of the Chinese Consulate in Houston. In retaliation, China on July 24 ordered the shut down of the US Consulate in Chengdu. Chinese officials in Houston could that evening be seen appearing to burn documents in a courtyard outside the consulate.  A US State Department spokeswoman said the consulate was directed to close "in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information" but did not immediately provide additional details. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the acting chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted (July 23) that the Houston consulate was a "central node of the Communist Party's vast network of spies." China's Foreign Ministry called the order an "unprecedented escalation" and suggested it would retaliate in kind. Speaking to CNN affiliate KTRK, China's consul general in Houston, Cai Wei, said he was shocked by the closure order and "I never expected (to be) treated like this, and we are coming for friendship, and for mutual understanding between China and the United States." 

Earlier, Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin said Beijing would likely respond to the forced closure of its Houston consulate with moves that inflict more pain on the U.S. than closing its operation in Wuhan, including potential cuts to its larger Hong Kong mission. He pointed out in a post on Chinese social media on July 23, that “The U.S. has over 1,000 staff at the Hong Kong consulate. What are so many people doing? It is obviously a spy centre.” Cutting its staff to 100 or 200 people could be one of the many options available to China, he said. 

(Comment: US analysts were expecting China to order the closure of the US Consulate in Wuhan. There are approx. 750 personnel posted in the US Embassy in Beijing and the 5 US Consulates in China. The strength of the US Embassy in Beijing is between 400 - 500, 150 in the Consulate Wuhan and an undetermined number in the US Consulates in Shenyang, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Closure of the US Consulate in Chengdu will mean reduced US access to information on Tibet.)   

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