The US State Department announced today that it had ordered the closure within 72 hours of China’s Consulate General office in Houston, “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”
Coming on the heels of stinging US allegations of Chinese industrial and COVID-related espionage, and mounting US-led pressure around the world on Huawei, sources in Beijing are denouncing the forced closure of the consulate as an unprecedented escalation of recent US actions against China, and yet more proof that the administration of President Donald Trump is determined to launch “a new cold war” against China.
** Confirming what has been widely speculated, ministerial sources in Beijing expect retaliation will be swift but proportional and come in the form of the parallel closure of one of the six US consulate offices in China. What is certain is that beyond the tensions and diplomatic tit-for-tat, there will be no break in full diplomatic relations between the two global powers.
** As to the “Phase-One” trade accord, which financial markets have taken as the singular litmus test for all things US-China, this source also expects that his colleagues in Beijing will not link the consulate closure to trade – at least not for now. That would follow the pattern of attack and counterattack between Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping since 2017, where Beijing has threaded a sort of 21st century Hammurabi code reaction function to pressure from Washington: a tariff in response to a tariff, sanctions in response to sanctions, and it would appear now a consulate in response to a consulate.
** That said, Beijing expects China-US relations to continue to deteriorate between now and the November 3 presidential elections and is braced for a military confrontation in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, or in the air over “the Taiwan part” of China’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
And whether quietly provoked by Washington or by an increasingly cornered Beijing, such an incident would seem well within the scope of possibilities now, given the current political backdrop.