China will be forced to respond to the US closing its Houston consulate, it said yesterday, a move the country's Foreign Ministry said "severely harmed" relations.
Washington gave China 72 hours to close the consulate "to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information", marking a dramatic escalation of tension between the world's two biggest economies.
Republican senator Marco Rubio, the acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the Houston consulate on Twitter as the "central node of the Communist Party's vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States".
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, speaking at a daily media briefing, described the US allegations as "malicious slander".
"In response to the US's unreasonable actions, China must make a necessary response and safeguard its legitimate rights," he said, declining to specify any measures.
The 'South China Morning Post' reported that China may close the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, while a source told Reuters on Wednesday that China was considering shutting the US consulate in Wuhan, where the US withdrew staff at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
Hu Xijin, editor of the 'Global Times', a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, wrote that shutting the Wuhan consulate would not send a strong message.
Mr Hu said the US had a large consulate in Hong Kong and it was "too obvious that the consulate is an intelligence centre".
The other US consulates in China are in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang.
US-China ties have deteriorated sharply this year over issues ranging from the coronavirus and telecoms-gear maker Huawei to China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.
Separately, the FBI has alleged in US court filings that a Chinese researcher accused of visa fraud and concealing ties to the military was now holed up in China's consulate in San Francisco.
Other Chinese researchers at US universities have also been arrested for visa fraud, according to US court filings.
Mr Wang said China would safeguard its citizens.
Chinese state media editorials criticised the order to shut the Houston consulate as an attempt to blame Beijing for US failures ahead of the November presidential election, as Donald Trump trails behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden.