The US State Department said the decision was made “to protect American intellectual property.”
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said it is “scandalous and unjustified”.
The statements came after unidentified people were filmed by burning paper in bins in the courtyard of the building.
Tensions have been rising between the United States and China for some time now. The administration of President Donald Trump has repeatedly clashed with Beijing on the trade and pandemic of coronaviruses, as well as on the imposition by China of a controversial new security law in Hong Kong.
Then Tuesday the United States Department of Justice accused China of sponsoring hackers against laboratories developing Covid-19 vaccines, accusing two Chinese citizens who allegedly spied on US research companies and obtained help from state agents for other thefts.
Why did the United States say it was closing the consulate?
The U.S. Department of State made a statement shortly after Mr. Wang spoke on Wednesday.
“We have directed the closure of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] Consulate general Houston to protect American intellectual property and American private information, “said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
He added that the United States “will not tolerate the PRC’s violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair commercial practices, the theft of American jobs and other egregious behavior.”
Ortagus also indicated the Vienna Convention, under which states “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of a host country.
The consulate is one of five in the United States, not to mention the embassy in Washington DC. It is not clear why this has been identified.
How has China reacted to the order?
China called the decision “an unprecedented escalation”, saying it violated international law. Wang went on to say that Washington had “shifted the blame to China with stigma and unwarranted attacks.”
He called on the United States to reconsider, saying that if it insists “on this wrong path, China will react with firm countermeasures”.
“In fact, in terms of the number of Chinese and American embassies and consulates in their respective countries and diplomatic and consular staff, the United States has many more people working in China,” said Wang.
Chinese state media the Global Times has started publishing a survey on which American consulate to close in response.
What is going on at the consulate?
The first signs that something unusual could happen at the Houston consulate emerged on Tuesday, when people looking out onto the building’s courtyard noticed several burning bins.
The video shows people throwing what appears to be paper into the bins. It is not known who they were. The people were subsequently filmed apparently pouring water on the bins.
Emergency services were called to the building on Tuesday evening. however, the Houston police forces said on Twitter that officers “were not granted access to enter the building.”, but I saw smoke.
Mr. Wang did not respond directly to the fires in the consulate courtyard, simply saying that it was operating normally.