HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Chinese Consul General of Houston says he was shocked to learn on Tuesday afternoon that the U.S. State Department is forcing the closure of the Houston Chinese Consulate on Friday.
"Quite surprised," said Consul General Cai Wei, who gave ABC13 an exclusive interview inside the soon-to-shutter building in Montrose. "I never expected [to be] treated like this, and we are coming for friendship, and for mutual understanding between China and the United States."
The news of the closure did not first come from Washington D.C., as is the usual course of diplomatic actions.
Rather, neighbors of the consulate noticed the smell of burning paper and saw flames in the courtyard, reporting the incident to the Houston Fire Department.
Consul General Cai did not dispute the burning of documents, calling it "standard" that diplomatic compounds of many countries often burn their internal documents before leaving a foreign post.
When asked about the widespread reporting that the Chinese Consulate was being closed because the State Department is concerned with economic espionage, or spying of U.S. business secrets, Cai stopped short of calling the accusations lies.
"Whether you are a top diplomat, or a very junior diplomat, the first lesson is you have to speak the truth, you have to speak with facts," said Cai. "I know [Americans] call that the rule of law and you have that you are not guilty until you're proven [guilty]... where's the proof?"
ABC13 also asked about the reporting in the New York Times that accused the Consul General of fabricating papers or doing something improper recently past the security checkpoint at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Cai said he and his staff were simply escorting some Chinese students onto a chartered airplane.
He said he gave the students some PPE, including masks, and directions on how to quarantine once they arrive in China.
He pushed back on allegations they were fabricating any documents.
"I think there's too many things you'll have to check for the facts," said Cai. "Okay, so you say the lies or the untrue things 100 times, that doesn't mean it's true."
On the practical side, the Chinese Consulate in Houston manages eight states and Puerto Rico.
There are many questions as to how travelers will get their visas and whether the closing of the consulate would impact crucial economic forces.
The Port of Houston, major oil and gas companies, and even the state of Texas' own economic development office could be impacted.
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Cai said he does not know how any of the mundane, day-to-day activities done by his consulate will be continued.
He also did not speak upon the policies that have led the U.S. State Department and China down to this point, deferring those questions to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
"It's very damaging," said Cai, who sounds ever slightly hopeful that the closure of the first Chinese Consulate in the U.S. will not actually happen. "This is unprecedented since 1979."
Meanwhile, in the back of the consulate, a U-Haul truck was seen pulling up. The closure seemed imminent.