- Employees at the Chinese consulate in Houston,Texas were spotted burning documents on Tuesday, raising questions and concerns about further deteriorating relations between the United States and China.
- Later that night, the U.S. ordered the consulate to close by Friday, with the State Department citing concerns over American intellectual property.
- The Justice Department has also charged two Chinese students with trying to steal U.S. intellectual property on behalf of themselves and the Chinese state, though it’s unclear if that is connected to the consulate’s forced closure.
- The Chinese government has now threatened to retaliate, calling the closure “outrageous and unjustified.”
Chinese Consulate in Houston Burns Documents
The U.S. State Department has now ordered the Chinese government to clear out of its consulate building in Houston, Texas, by Friday.
That announcement, which came Tuesday night, sparked immediate condemnation from the Chinese government, which vowed to retaliate.
The situation seemingly began Tuesday evening when people at that consulate building were spotted burning documents in what appeared to be trash cans.
Police and firefighters responded to the scene after calls from some residents in the area. Despite their presence, authorities never entered the consulate grounds because they weren’t granted access to it, a move that is in line with diplomatic rules.
Several hours later, local TV station KPRC 2 captured more footage showing people inside the consulate grounds hosing down what appeared to be flaming containers.
The event raised several questions and concerns, particularly that U.S.-China relations had hit a new low. In fact, such a thought was not unrealistic. Both countries have continually ramped up tensions with one another over the last year. In addition to a trade war, both countries have also expelled or restricted each other’s journalists. They’ve slapped sanctions on each other’s government officials. On top of that, President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus.”
More recently, the U.S. has declared that it no longer views Hong Kong as separate and autonomous from China. That came after China passed a controversial national security law that allowed it to impose its law enforcement on the city for the first time ever.
U.S. Orders the Consulate to Shut Down
Following the reports of burning documents, U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus officially announced the consulate’s closure. In a brief statement, she said the Trump administration had ordered it shut down in order “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”
“The United States will not tolerate the [People’s Republic of China’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,” she added.
Though she did not give a specific reason, Ortagus suggested that China had violated the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic relations between states, Notably, the rule of that convention state 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.”
Houston police have also confirmed that employees at the consulate, as well as at a building where many of them live, will be evicted on Friday.
As far as what China specifically did to prompt the U.S. to make this move, that much has not been released. In fact, it’s unknown why the U.S. singled out Houston’s consulate instead of another.
While in Europe on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. has “long complained” about intellectual property theft by China.
“President Trump has said ‘enough,’” Pompeo said. “We’re not going to allow this.”
There is reason to suggest that the move is tied to another event that occurred on Tuesday: the Justice Department’s indictment of two Chinese nationals on charges of hacking and targeting sensitive coronavirus vaccine research.
Those nationals, two former engineering students, are now charged with hacking companies connected to high-tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and gaming software development. Additionally, they’ve been charged with dissidents, clergy, and human rights activists in the United States, China, and Hong Kong.
What’s more, the Justice Department has accused China of sponsoring them, alleging that they were aided by the Chinese Ministry of State Security. Notably, this is the first time the U.S. has ever charged suspected Chinese hackers of working on behalf of the state.
“China steals intellectual property and research which bolsters its economy, and then they use that illicit gain as a weapon to silence any country that would dare challenge their illegal actions,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said in a statement very similar to Ortagus’ comments.
“This type of economic coercion is not what we expect from a trusted world leader,” Bowdich said. “It is what we expect from an organized criminal syndicate.”
Still, it is currently unclear if this situation is directly tied to the consulate’s closure.
China Promises to Retaliate
Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, called the consulate’s forced closure “outrageous and unjustified,” adding that it is an “unprecedented escalation” that violates international law.
“The U.S. has far more diplomatic missions and staff working in China,” Wang said in a threat to retaliate. “So if the U.S. is bent on going down this wrong path, we will resolutely respond.”
“#China’s consulate in #Houston is not a diplomatic facility,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said Wednesday. “It is the central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States. Now that building must close & the spies have 72 hours to leave or face arrest. This needed to happen.”
While it’s unknown how China plans to respond, many media outlets have suggested that China may move to close either the U.S. embassy in Beijing or one of the U.S.’s five consulate offices scattered throughout China.
One of those offices includes a consulate building in Wuhan that is currently seen as a likely candidate for closure. Part of that decision could be influenced by the fact that the U.S. evacuated that office in January due to the coronavirus outbreak, a move which insulted the central government in Beijing. In fact, that office still hasn’t reopened.
So far, however, China’s only move has been issuing a renewed travel warning for Chinese students in the U.S. That warning advises them that they could face arbitrary interrogations, the confiscation of personal belongings, and potential detentions. Likely, that warning alludes to the Justice Department’s charges against those two former students.
See what others are saying: (KPRC 2) (The Washington Post) (BBC)
Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days
The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.
Centner Academy Vaccination Policy
A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.
According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.
“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.
“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.
According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”
In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.
Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.
Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation
In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”
“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.
The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.
In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.
According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.
The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.
See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)
Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem
Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.
Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg
In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism.
Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”
According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.“
Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice
“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.“
According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject.
Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out.
Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)
Biden Administration Orders ICE To Halt Workplace Raids
The Department of Homeland Security will now focus on targeting employers who exploit undocumented workers, instead of carrying out raids that dissuade those workers from reporting labor violations.
DHS Reverses Worksite Raid Policy
The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop workplace raids.
The move marks a reversal from Trump administration policies that have been strongly criticized by immigration activists who argue the efforts created fear in immigrant communities and dissuaded them from reporting labor violations or exploitative employment practices.
In addition to stopping the raids, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that the administration will refocus enforcement efforts to instead target “employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities or impose unsafe working conditions.”
Mayorkas added that the immigration agencies housed in DHS will have the next 60 days to identify harmful existing policies and come up with new ones that provide better deportation protections for workers who report their employers.
In the Tuesday memo, the secretary argued that shift of focus will “reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers” and “increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigation.”
Labor Market Implications
The new policy comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing a critical labor shortage, including in many sectors that rely on immigrant labor.
Some companies that use undocumented workers pay them wages that are far below the market rate, which is not only exploitative but also undercuts competitors.
According to Mayorkas, the pivot to employer-based enforcement will help protect American businesses.
“By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market,” he said in the memo. “They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”
It is currently unclear how effective the new efforts will be, but historical precedent does not paint an optimistic picture.
The Biden administration’s efforts closely mirror a similar move by the Obama administration, which attempted to reverse workplace raids authorized under President George W. Bush by targetting those who employ undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves.
That effort, however, still led to thousands of undocumented workers being fired.