The U.S. State Department ordered the shut down of the Chinese consulate general in Houston, Texas, late Tuesday evening, and officials on the ground responded by reportedly burning troves of documents and barring first responders from entering the grounds.

According to The Chicago Tribune, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the closure, scheduled to take effect Friday, will “protect American intellectual property and America’s private information.”China strongly condemned the move, the latest in a series of steps by the Trump administration as it ratchets up pressure on the world’s second-largest economy over trade, technology, human rights and security.

Firefighters responded to reports of papers being burned on the consulate grounds Tuesday night but were barred entry, according to Houston news media reports. The U.S., in a brief statement, did not provide any details.

“The Vienna Convention states diplomats must ‘respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State’ and have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State,” Ortagus continued. “The United States will not tolerate the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] violations of our 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 behavior. President Trump insists on fairness and reciprocity in U.S.-China relations.”

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) called the move an “unprecedented escalation of its recent actions” against China.

“The United States will not tolerate (China’s) violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated (its) unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,” said the statement, which was attributed to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. The U.S. also said it would not reopen its consulate in the city of Wuhan, which was closed in late January at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, a Trump administration official said.

China was informed of the decision Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, calling it “an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage relations between the two countries.” He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse itself. Besides Wuhan, the U.S. has four other consulates in China — in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenyang — along with its embassy in Beijing, according to its website.

It is still unclear what documents were burned at the consulate, but Houston Police and Fire Departments reported smoke coming from a controlled fire within the consulate’s courtyard around 8:30 pm local time. Houston fire and police departments responded to the scene but were not allowed entry into the building. Because it is a consulate, it falls under Chinese sovereignty allowing them to deny anyone access.

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