A group of men who appeared to be American officials were seen forcing open a back door of the Chinese consulate in Houston as a US closure order took effect at 4pm on Friday.
Earlier the same group of men was seen padlocking a door on another side of the building. After the men went inside, two uniformed members of the US State Department’s diplomatic security bureau arrived to guard the door. They also did not respond to questions. A Reuters witness saw consulate staff exiting the building shortly after 4pm and leaving in vehicles before the back door was forced open.
About 100 Chinese activists gathered at the consulate on Friday shouting slogans denouncing communism and heckling staff. Protesters cheered when a tractor trailer circled the building with giant signs that read “Freedom from Communism” and “God Bless America”.
Some protesters held American flags as they watched workers loading belongings from the five-storey building into trucks.
China on Friday ordered the US to close its consulate in Chengdu in response to the expulsion of the Houston mission.
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said the consulate had been “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft” and Washington and its allies must use “more creative and assertive ways” to press the Chinese Communist party to change its ways.
Donald Trump’s administration said the closing of the consulate was aimed at protecting American intellectual property and personal information.
In a related case, a senior US Justice Department official said a Chinese researcher who took refuge at China’s consulate in San Francisco was taken into American custody on Thursday. He said Juan Tang was part of a network of associates who concealed their military affiliation when applying for visas.