July 22 (UPI) -- The Chinese government on Wednesday threatened retaliatory "countermeasures" after U.S. officials abruptly ordered the closure of Beijing's consulate in Houston.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the Trump administration ordered the closure in an "unprecedented escalation," and promised to "react with firm countermeasures" if the move is not rescinded.
The ministry called the closure a "political provocation unilaterally launched by the U.S. side, which seriously violates international law, basic norms governing international relations and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the U.S."
It also accused the Trump administration of stigmatizing and "unwarranted attacks" against China's social system, "harassing" Chinese diplomatic and consular staff, "intimidating and interrogating" Chinese students and "confiscating their personal electrical devices, even detaining them without cause."
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, traveling with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Denmark, said the closure was ordered "to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information."
"The United States will not tolerate [China's] violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the [its] unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior," she said. "President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in U.S.-China relations."
The move escalates tensions already somewhat strained by blame over the COVID-19 pandemic, trade disputes and Beijing's military actions in the South China Sea.
Possible countermeasures may include shutting down the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, a Chinese academic told the Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper.
"China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move which will sabotage China-U.S. relations," the foreign ministry said in a statement posted to social media. "We urge the U.S. to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision, otherwise China will make legitimate and necessary reactions."
Tuesday night, authorities in Houston responded to a fire at the consulate, where witnesses saw papers being burned outside the facility.
The closure came ahead of a Senate foreign relations committee hearing on Wednesday that will examine U.S.-China relations. The hearing will include testimony from Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun.