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US-China tensions

China counters US claims on Houston mission in 10-point rebuttal

Beijing says Washington's allegations are driven by internal politics

SHANGHAI -- The Chinese Foreign Ministry published a lengthy rebuttal on Wednesday against the accusations hurled by the U.S. regarding its closure of Beijing's consulate in Houston.

In a 10-point "reality check of U.S. unilateral demand to close consulate general in Houston," the government in Beijing countered complaints ranging from intellectual property theft to espionage and the silencing of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. China said those allegations were driven by U.S. internal politics and made up "out of thin air" due to Washington's desire for "hegemony."

"The real aim of the U.S. decision was to deflect the people's attention from the administration's poor handling of COVID-19," it said.

The move follows a demand by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration that China vacates its Houston consulate to "protect American IP and Americans' private information."

China retaliated this week by closing the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. In a video posted on the official U.S. embassy WeChat account, Jim Mullinax, the consul general, said he will complete his mission next month and leave Chengdu.

The diplomat did not address accusations made by China in the rebuttal about intelligence work carried out by U.S. diplomatic service, other than to say that his work over the past three years supported bilateral exchanges in regions such as Sichuan and Tibet.

The ministry said that China has become the world's second-largest intellectual filer, driving copyright growth globally and even supplying artificial intelligence talent to the U.S.

The statement said the U.S. has the largest diplomatic service globally, with more than 1,000 staff at the Hong Kong consulate alone. China claims that U.S. diplomats are involved in "large-scale, organized and indiscriminate cyber-theft, wire-tapping and surveillance against foreign governments."

Analysts said the ministry's rebuttal appeared to be aimed more at a domestic audience than a global one, and partly a defense of the passing of a new national security law in Hong Kong.

"The entire response, particularly point no. 10, are targeted domestically," David Zweig, professor emeritus at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said, in reference to Washington's allegation that the Houston consulate planted informants on campus to suppress Hong Kong pro-democracy activities.

"Part of it may be to justify the National Security Law in Hong Kong, as it kept mentioning the 1,000 Americans in the Hong Kong consulate," said Zweig. "But it may also be targeted at other countries, such as in Europe or Africa, who see the U.S. as intensifying this confrontation."

The Chinese rebuttal is part of the government's effort to respond to "peremptory acts" by the U.S.

Foreign minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday that both countries should engage in "rational communication" in response to the U.S. top diplomat Mike Pompeo's recent speech in which he called for nations to "distrust and verify" against the China Communist Party.

Wang called on the international community to push against U.S. "bullying."

"We believe that all countries will make the right and wise judgment not to be held hostage by a small number of political forces in the U.S. and to avoid falling into a new cold war," he said in a telephone call to his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.

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