Washington [US], July 29 (ANI): The shutting down of the Chinese consulate in Houston indicates that the US is likely making it an example in order to achieve its goal of a reduction in Beijing's espionage activities without taking even harsher measures, such as shuttering its San Francisco or New York consulates, Axios reported.
"San Francisco is the real gem but the US will not close it," a former American intelligence official told Axios.
Last week, the US asked China to close its Houston consulate to "protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information," White House National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said in a statement. In a tit-for-tat response, Beijing ordered the shutting down of the US consulate in Chengdu.
The Chengdu consulate primarily served as a visa-issuing office for the Chinese intending to visit the US and was not a major hub for US intelligence activity. However, the Houston consulate was not "China's most important hub".
The developments come at a time when ties between the world's two largest economies are at an all-time low over a number of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which Washington blames Beijing for its mishandling of the crisis and allowing the virus to spread across the world.
A Chinese fugitive researcher, who had been hiding in the Chinese consulate in San Francisco following visa fraud allegations is now in US custody, senior US government officials said last week, adding that Beijing is using its diplomatic missions to run an espionage network to steal intellectual property from American universities, research centres and businesses.
Tang Juan, the scientist who said that she was focusing on biology, "was a fugitive from justice until last night," a senior Justice Department official was quoted by CNN as saying. Prosecutors said that Tang hid her connection to the Chinese military for entering the US, by lying to federal prosecutors about her links and subsequently took refuge at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco to evade arrest.
China has long used its embassies and consulates in the US to exert greater influence and control over student groups, gathering information on Uighurs and Chinese dissident groups, and coordinate local and state-level political influence activities.
In June, a report issued by the US Department of State said that China uses counter-terrorism as a pretext to detain and carry out a repressive campaign against millions of Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in internment camps in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region located in the northwestern part of the country.
The report said that the Chinese Communist Party has detained more than one million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang since April 2017 because of their religion and ethnicity, and subjected them to political, linguistic, and cultural indoctrination as well as forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse -- including forced sterilisation and sexual abuse -- and prolonged detention without trial.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tracking down on Uighurs who have left China and force them to return. Members of the ethnic community are ordered to be sent to the mass internment camps "the moment they cross the border", Axios reported.
People in the internment camps have described being subjected to forced political indoctrination, torture, beatings and denial of food and medicine, and say they have been prohibited from practising their religion or speaking their language.
The Chinese embassies and consulates have collected information on overseas Uighurs and gave the details to Xinjiang police. Consular officers have repeatedly denied renewing Uighur passports, telling them they should first return to China for obtaining new documents -- only to be disappeared into the internment camps.
Not only that, Beijing, through its diplomatic missions, keeps a close watch on its students in the US, occasionally sending them political directives and quietly organising demonstrations.
China has paid its students to stage demonstrations in favour of visiting Chinese leaders, telling them to outnumber the anti-CCP protestors. It has also instructed Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) to hold study sessions on party thoughts and send photographs of the sessions to ensure compliance.
In the backdrop of rising US-China tensions, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, in an address at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California, recently said that "distrust and verify" will be the new approach by Washington with regard to its dealing with Beijing.
He called on countries to pressurise the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to change its behaviour in more "creative and assertive ways". (ANI)