A former American intelligence official has said that by shutting down the Chinese consulate in Houston, the US is likely making it an example in order to achieve its goal of a reduction in Beijing’s espionage activities without taking even harsher measures, such as shuttering its San Francisco or New York consulates.
“San Francisco is the real gem but the US will not close it,” the official said.
In July, the US had asked China to close its Houston consulate to “protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said in a statement.
In a tit-for-tat response, Beijing ordered the shutting down of the US consulate in Chengdu.
The developments come at a time when ties between US-China are at an all-time low over a number of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which Washington blames Beijing for its mishandling of the crisis.
A Chinese fugitive researcher, who had been hiding in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco following visa fraud allegations is now in US custody, senior US government officials said, adding that Beijing is using its diplomatic missions to run an espionage network to steal intellectual property from American universities, research centres and businesses.
China has long used its embassies and consulates in the US to exert greater influence and control over student groups, gathering information on Uighurs and Chinese dissident groups, and coordinate local and state-level political influence activities.
In June, a report issued by the US Department of State said that China uses counter-terrorism as a pretext to detain and carry out a repressive campaign against millions of Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region located in the northwestern part of the country.
The report said that the Chinese Communist Party has detained more than one million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang since April 2017 because of their religion and ethnicity, and subjected them to political, linguistic, and cultural indoctrination as well as forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse and prolonged detention without trial.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tracking down on Uighurs who have left China and force them to return. Members of the ethnic community are ordered to be sent to the mass internment camps the moment they cross the border.
The Chinese embassies and consulates have collected information on overseas Uighurs and gave the details to Xinjiang police. Consular officers have repeatedly denied renewing Uighur passports, telling them they should first return to China for obtaining new documents.
Not only that, Beijing, through its diplomatic missions, keeps a close watch on its students in the US, occasionally sending them political directives and quietly organizing demonstrations.
In the backdrop of rising US-China tensions, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, in an address at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California, recently said that “distrust and verify” will be the new approach by Washington with regard to its dealing with Beijing.
He called on countries to pressurize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to change its behaviour in more “creative and assertive ways”.