US closes ‘massive Chinese spy centre’ in Texas
Workers in a Chinese consulate in Texas were seen burning secret documents on the grounds of the property after the US ordered Beijing to close it down.
The US has ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in what an official in Beijing blasted as an outrageous and unjustified move - leading the country to consider shuttering the American diplomatic office in Wuhan.
The State Department claimed the immediate action was needed to "protect American intellectual property" and other private information of American citizens.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed in a tweet Wednesday morning that "China's Houston consulate is a massive spy centre, forcing it to close is long overdue".
"We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and American's private information," US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
Mr Ortagus added that Washington would not tolerate Chinese violations of their "sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC's unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behaviour."
Meanwhile, China hit back with claims that its embassy in Washington DC had been hit with bomb and death threats.
Beijing said the closure was "an unprecedented escalation" and said it would retaliate if Washington did not reverse the decision, Reuters reported.
"China urges the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, or China will definitely take a proper and necessary response," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
The US government has been harassing Chinese diplomatic staff for some time, Wang added, as well as "intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices, even detaining them," according to Reuters.
The move - which the Chinese official said will sabotage relations between the two powers - came hours after firefighters responded to a fire reportedly sparked by the burning of documents at the Consulate General of China in Houston.
Relations between the two countries have frayed on a number of fronts, running the gamut from trade to Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its policies in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea.
On Tuesday, US prosecutors charged two Chinese nationals in a decade-long cyber espionage campaign in which they allegedly stole information on weapons designs, drug information, software source code and personal data.
The order to shutter the Chinese consulate comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Europe, where he has been rallying leaders to take a tougher stance with Beijing, and meeting with exiled dissidents, CNN reported.
The Chinese consulate in Houston was opened in 1979 - the first in the year the US and the People's Republic of China established diplomatic ties, according to Agence France-Presse.
Besides its embassy in Beijing, the US has five consulates in mainland China - Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.
CHINA-BACKED HACKERS TARGETED AUSSIE FIRMS
Chinese government-backed hackers targeted an Australian solar company and defence contractor, according to the FBI, which has issued warrants for the pair.
The two Chinese nationals were indicted by the US Justice Department on Tuesday, local time, for a wide range of offences including trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine research from countries around the world.
Their targets included "hundreds of victim companies, governments, non-governmental organisations, and individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States and abroad, including Hong Kong and China", said the Justice Department.
Li Xiaoyu, 34, and Dong Jiazhi, 33, were "on call" for the Chinese government's Ministry of State Security, said US Assistant Attorney-General John Demers.
The FBI issued wanted notices for the duo, who are believed to be in China.
They were described as electrical engineers who met at a university in Chengdu, China, and operated their criminal enterprise for more than a decade.
The Australian companies targeted were not identified, apart from being named as Victim 21 and 23.
Demers said the 27-page federal grand jury indictment charged them with targeting a series of companies across the world.
"The hackers targeted technology companies in countries with high technology industries, including in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States," he said.
"These intrusions are yet another example of China's brazen willingness to engage in theft through computer intrusions contrary to their international commitments."
The hacks were attempted through malware, and Australia was targeted in January and April this year.
"On or about January 28, 2020, Li accessed Victim 23's network via a China Chopper web shell," the indictment reads.
"Li then executed commands on Victim 23's network that enabled him to view reconnaissance information such as directory contents and user privileges."
The hackers acted in some instances "for their own personal gain" and in others for the benefit of the Chinese government.
"The indictment specifically outlines how stealing intellectual property from companies in these hi-tech industries could help Chinese companies replicate the targeted technology and eventually edge out their non-Chinese competitors," said Demers.
"China's anti-competitive behaviour and flagrant disregard for their promises not to engage in cyber-enabled intellectual property theft is not just a domestic issue; it is a global issue.
"The indictment alleges activity against companies in at least 10 countries around the world.
The indictment shows very clearly that no country is immune. Any country with a successful company or industry must be on guard and prepared to protect itself.
"The indictment also highlights how the Chinese government is willing to turn a blind eye to prolific criminal hackers operating within China's borders.
"In this manner, China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran, and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being "on call" to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist Party's insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies' hard-earned intellectual property, including COVID-19 research.
"With the top cover provided by state officials, these criminals are given free rein to victimise law abiding citizens around the world. All of these activities - state-sponsored theft of intellectual property and knowingly providing a safe havens for cyber criminals - run afoul of norms of acceptable state behaviour in cyberspace, which the international community must address."
Originally published as US closes 'massive Chinese spy centre' in Texas