Houston Chinese Consulate Fire Video Shows Documents Being Burned Ahead of Eviction

Documents were reported to be burning in the courtyard of the Chinese consulate building in Houston, Texas which is being shuttered this Friday. The U.S. ordered the closure of the consulate Tuesday, giving staff there 72 hours to leave the country.

Dozens of first responders arrived at the scene, Houston's KPRC 2 reported. But none have entered the consulate, which is considered to be Chinese territory.

"About 8:25 pm on Tuesday, our officers responded to meet the firefighter call to the China Consulate General in Houston building at 3417 Montrose Blvd. Smoke was observed in an outside courtyard area. Officers were not granted access to enter the building," the Houston Police Department said in a post on its official Twitter account.

"Since HPD is not a lead agency in the matter, no other information is being released by our department at this time," it added.

Speaking to Newsweek, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, Morgan Ortagus, said: "We have directed the closure of PRC [People's Republic of China] Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and American's private information.

"The United States will not tolerate the PRC's 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.

"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 said.

The documents were reportedly burning in open bins, seen in a video captured by a local who lives next door to the consulate that was shared with KPRC 2.

Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Pena told Houston's ABC 13: "It appears to be open burning in a container within the courtyard of the Chinese consulate facility. It does not appear to be an unconfined fire but we have not been allowed access. We are standing by and monitoring."

The consulate as well as a compound on Almeda Road, where many employees of the consulate live, are reportedly being evicted on Friday at 4 p.m. local time, Houston police told KPRC 2.

This video shared with us by a viewer who lives next to the Consulate General of China in #Houston shows fire and activity in the courtyard of the building.
DETAILS SO FAR: https://t.co/2cOeKoap96 pic.twitter.com/0myxe6HIlC

— KPRC2Tulsi (@KPRC2Tulsi) July 22, 2020

A witness at the scene told KPRC 2: "You could just smell the paper burning. But, all the firefighters were just surrounding the building. They couldn't go inside."

Newsweek has contacted the Houston Fire Department for more information.

.@HoustonFire and @houstonpolice are responding to reports of documents being burned at the Consulate General of China on 3417 Montrose Boulevard. Here's what the scene looks like there right now. pic.twitter.com/grUHhqmUz4

— KPRC2Tulsi (@KPRC2Tulsi) July 22, 2020

The incident follows an indictment filed earlier this month against two Chinese nationals which alleged they repeatedly hacked into computer systems around the world for more than a decade and recently targeted efforts to produce a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

The charges were announced Tuesday by John Demers, an assistant attorney general for the national security division of the Department of Justice, with representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

The two Chinese nationals both face 11 counts that include conspiring to steal trade secrets and commit wire fraud, identify theft and unauthorized access of computers.

The allegations came less than two months after the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned Americans that they suspected China was targeting U.S. companies' COVID-19 research efforts.

Update 7/22/20: This article has been updated with comment from the U.S. State Department.

Firefighters, Houston, Texas, January 2020
File photo: Firefighters and emergency services arrive at a scene of a reported explosion in Houston, Texas on January 24, 2020. Getty Images