US gives China 72 hours to shut Houston consulate as spying charges mount

The United States gave China 72 hours to close its consulate in Houston amid accusations of spying, marking a dramatic deterioration in relations between the world's two biggest economies.

China's foreign ministry called the move an "unprecedented escalation" and threatened unspecified retaliation. Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Chinese Embassy in the United States had received "bomb and death threats" because of "smears & hatred" fanned by Washington.

"The US should revoke its erroneous decision," she tweeted. "China will surely react with firm countermeasures."

Communist Party rulers in Beijing were considering shutting the US consulate in the central city of Wuhan in retaliation, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

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When President XI visited London
File photo dated 20/10/2015 of Chinese President Xi Jinping with Queen Elizabeth II at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, London, during his state visit to the UK. A pop-up book, a painting of a swimming pig and a bottle of gin were among the official gifts given to the Queen last year.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge greets President of China Mr Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan at a creative industry event at Lancaster House in London on October 21, 2015.
A staff member adjusts the Vessel of Friendship, a model of the 'treasure ship' sailed by 15th-century Chinese navigator and diplomat Zeng He, presented to Queen Elizabeth II by President Xi Jinping of China in 2015, during a preview for the exhibition of Royal Gifts, which is part of the annual Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, London.
Well wishers (left) and anti-Chinese protestors (right) hold flags and placards as Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Duke of York visit Inmarsat in London.
Demonstrators hold placards as Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Duke of York visit Inmarsat in London.
(left to right) Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, the Duke of York, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Andy Sukawaty, Chairman of Inmarsat, and Greg Hands, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, pose for a photograph during a visit to Inmarsat in London, on the third day of his state visit to the UK.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh bid farewell to President of China Xi Jinping and his wife, Madame Peng Liyuan, at Buckingham Palace in London.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh bid farewell to President of China Xi Jinping and his wife, Madame Peng Liyuan, at Buckingham Palace in London.
Madame Peng Liyuan and Chinese President Xi Jinping listen to speeches during a visit to Imperial College London during the State Visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, London.
Chinese President Xi Jinping with the Duchess of Cambridge at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, London, during the first day of his state visit to the UK.
China's president Xi Jinping makes a speech at a banquet at the Guildhall in London on the second day of his state visit as Lord Mayor Alderman Alan Yarrow looks on.
The Duke of York (left) speaks with Chancellor George Osborne (centre) during the State Visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, London.
Chinese President Xi Jinping with the Duchess of Cambridge and Queen Elizabeth II at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, London, during the first day of his state visit to the UK.
(from left) Chancellor George Osborne, Madame Peng Liyuan and Chinese President Xi Jinping listen to speeches during a visit to Imperial College London during the State Visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, London.
China's president Xi Jinping sits alongside the Duke of York at a banquet at the Guildhall in London on the second day of his state visit.
Lord Mayor Alderman Alan Yarrow and Lady Mayoress Gilly Yarrow greet the Duke of York at a banquet at the Guildhall in London on the second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit.
(Left to right) The Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth II, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and his wife Peng Liyuan, view a display of Chinese items from the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace in London, during the first day of the Chinese state visit.
The red carpet is rolled out before Prime Minister David Cameron welcomes the President of China, Xi Jinping, to 10 Downing Street in London.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge greet President of China Mr Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan at a creative industry event at Lancaster House in London on October 21, 2015.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge wait in the rain to greet President of China Mr Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan at a creative industry event at Lancaster House in London on October 21, 2015.
China's President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister David Cameron attend a commercial contract exchange at the UK-China Business Summit at Mansion House, London, on the second day of Xi's state visit.
China's President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister David Cameron attend a commercial contract exchange at the UK-China Business Summit at Mansion House, London, on the second day of Xi's state visit.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid and China's Minister Gao Hucheng sign an agreement as Prime Minister David Cameron and China's President Xi Jinping watch at Number 10 Downing Street in London on the second day of his state visit to the UK.
China's President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister David Cameron attend a joint press conference in 10 Downing Street, in central London on the second day of his state visit to the UK.
China's President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister David Cameron shake hands at the end of their joint press conference in 10 Downing Street, in central London on the second day of his state visit to the UK.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the President Xi Jinping of The People's Republic of China and his wife Madame Peng Liyuan as they visit a creative industry event at Lancaster House, London on day two of the President's state visit to the UK.
The President of China, Xi Jinping (centre) arrives at Lancaster House in London, where he attended an event celebrating the cultural collaboration, existing and future, between the UK and China.
The President of China, Xi Jinping (right) leaves Lancaster House in London, where he attended an event celebrating the cultural collaboration, existing and future, between the UK and China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a BAFTA presentation at Lancaster House in London.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) and the Duchess of Cambridge attend a BAFTA presentation at Lancaster House in London.
Madame Peng Liyuan listens to speeches during a visit to Imperial College London, on day two of the state visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Duke of Cambridge with the President of China, Xi Jinping, at Lancaster House in London, after they attended an event celebrating the cultural collaboration, existing and future, between the UK and China.
People wait outside Imperial College London ahead of the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping on day two of the state visit by the Chinese President.
A general view of the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace, London, during a state banquet in honour of Chinese President Xi Jinping during the first day of his state visit to the UK.
President of China Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan accompany Queen Elizabeth II as they arrive for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in London, on the first full day of his state visit to the UK.
President of The People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping, meets the Prince of Wales at Clarence House, London for China Tea on the first day of the President's state visit to the UK.
President of The People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping, meets the Prince of Wales at Clarence House, London for China Tea on the first day of the President's state visit to the UK.
President of The People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping and China's First Lady Peng Liyuan, meet the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House, London for China Tea on the first day of the President's state visit to the UK.
China President Xi Jinping addresses MPs and peers in the Palace of Westminster's Royal Gallery in London on the first full day of his state visit to the UK.
A member of the Household Cavalry on Horse Guards Parade, London, ahead of a ceremonial welcome for the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan on the first day of their state visit to the UK.
Queen Elizabeth II at Horse Guards Parade, London, during the ceremonial welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping on the first day of his state visit to the UK.
The Duke of Edinburgh accompanies Chinese President Xi Jinping (left), as he inspects a Guard of Honour during the ceremonial welcome on Horse Guards Parade, London, for the President on the first day of his state visit to the UK.
Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects a guard of honour during the official welcome ceremony at Horseguards Parade in London, on the first official day of the Chinese state visit.
Members of the Household Cavalry on Horse Guards Parade, London, ahead of a ceremonial welcome for the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan on the first day of their state visit to the UK.
Queen Elizabeth II at Horse Guards Parade, London, during the ceremonial welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping on the first day of his state visit to the UK.
The Duke of Edinburgh and Chinese President Xi Jinping inspect the troops at Horse Guards Parade, London, during the ceremonial welcome for the president on the first day of his state visit to the UK.
A protester at The Mall in London, as Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan arrive on the first day of their state visit to the UK.
The Duke of Edinburgh accompanies the President of The People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping (nearest camera), as he inspects a Guard of Honour during the ceremonial welcome on Horse Guards Parade, London, for the President on the first day of his state visit to the UK.
The Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales greet Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London, on the first official day of their state visit.
The crowds on The Mall outside Buckingham Palace, London, on day one of the Chinese state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Chinese President Xi Jinping leaves 10 Downing Street in London after he met with Prime Minister David Cameron on the second day of his state visit to the UK.
Well wishers wave flags as Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Duke of York visit Inmarsat in London.
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The State Department said the Chinese mission in Houston was closed "to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information".

The move comes in the run-up to the November US presidential election, in which President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, have both tried to look tough in response to China.

Speaking on a visit to Denmark, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated accusations about Chinese theft of US and European intellectual property, which he said were costing "hundreds of thousands of jobs."

While offering no specifics about the Houston consulate, Pompeo referred to a US Justice Department indictment on Tuesday of two Chinese nationals over what it called a decade-long cyber espionage campaign that targeted defense contractors, Covid researchers and hundreds of other victims worldwide.

"President Trump has said: 'Enough. We are not going to allow this to continue to happen,'" Pompeo told reporters. "That's the actions that you're seeing taken by President Trump, we'll continue to engage in this."

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the Houston consulate on Twitter as the "central node of the Communist Party's vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States".

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