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US-China tensions up as Houston mission ordered closed

Washington:  The US ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, ratcheting up tensions between the world’s largest economies as President Trump presses on punitive measures against China ahead of the November U.S. election. Beijing denounced the order Wednesday as “outrageous” and said it would draw a firm response if not reversed, reported AP.

The physical closure of the consulate, one of China’s six missions in the United States, marked a dramatic step in increasingly contentious relations that have been strained not only by the coronavirus pandemic but disputes over trade, human rights, Hong Kong and Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Previous Trump administration measures against Chinese officials, students and researchers have included travel bans, registration requirements and other steps intended to reduce the country’s footprint in the United States. The administration has also announced its outright rejection of virtually all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea.

These actions have come as Trump has sought to blame China for the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., where cases have soared, threatening his prospects for reelection. Trump himself said more closures could be coming if China doesn’t change its behavior. “It’s always possible,” he told reporters at the White House.

A spokesperson for the State Department said in a statement that China “has engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations” and that those “activities have increased markedly in scale and scope over the past few years.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was set to deliver remarks on China on Thursday at the Richard Nixon Museum and Library in California.

On Tuesday, US prosecutors charged two alleged Chinese hackers over a “sweeping global computer intrusion campaign” that they say was supported by the country’s government and aimed at coronavirus treatment and vaccine research.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the accusation was like a “thief accusing others to be the thief,” in a press briefing on Wednesday, and charged that the US “has been engaging in the largest cyberattacks activities in the world.”

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