Pompeo Says Chinese Diplomats in Houston Engaged in Industrial Espionage

In a Thursday interview, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the alleged actions of diplomats at the Chinese consulate in Houston were "not okay." Pompeo also said the consulate was ordered to close in order to "protect the American people."

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said the Chinese consulate in Houston must close by Friday. Officials alleged that China had been involved in "massive illegal spying and influence operations throughout the United States against U.S. government officials and American citizens."

Workers at the consulate were observed setting documents ablaze at the consulate on Tuesday night. Although the U.S. has ordered that the consulate fully shut down by Friday, there is no indication that Chinese officials will actually close.

Pompeo told Fox News host Martha McCallum that "everyone knows the rules for diplomats."

"I'm confident that we'll proceed in a way that makes clear that it's not okay to use your diplomats to engage in industrial espionage," Pompeo said. "It's not okay to steal intellectual property. It's not okay to engage in those kinds of behaviors. That's the reason we did it. We did it to protect the American people and we're going to make sure that happens.

Pompeo said that the Trump administration was working to "protect the American people" against the Chinese Communist Party.

mike pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston in a Thursday interview. Hannah McKay/WPA Pool/Getty

"You're seeing [Trump's] administration begin to do the things that will lead to make sure the American people are safe and secure and that the jobs that depend on American intellectual property aren't lost to theft from Chinese diplomats that sit in a place in Houston, Texas with great access to American scientific know-how and business value," Pompeo said.

Information from the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States directed Newsweek to a statement from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin from a Thursday news briefing.

"The U.S. accusations that China's consulate general in Houston engaged in activities inconsistent with its capacity are nothing but vicious slanders," Wenbin said.

"The U.S. demand of the closure of China's consulate general in Houston is in serious violation of international law, basic norms governing international relations and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the US," Wenbin continued. "It severely damages bilateral relations, a move that undercuts the bond of friendship between Chinese and American people."

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice began the China Initiative which was designed to investigate and apprehend intellectual property thieves from China. During a keynote address at a China Initiative conference in February, Attorney General William Barr said the annual cost of China's intellectual property theft could be as high as $600 billion.

According to a report from the China Initiative updated in July, roughly "80 percent of all economic espionage prosecutions brought by the U.S. Department of Justice allege conduct that would benefit the Chinese state, and there is at least some nexus to China in around 60 percent of all trade secret theft cases."

Updated 8:59 p.m. EST 07/23/2020: This story has been updated with a statement from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.