Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that the recently shut down Chinese consulate in Houston was "basically a front" for a "massive spy operation."
The Florida Republican made the remarks during an interview with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo Wednesday morning as news broke that the Trump administration had ordered the diplomatic consulate to close by Friday.
Chinese workers at the consulate started burning mounds of paperwork in large barrels in the facility's courtyard soon after they were ordered to shut down operations. The fires got so big that the Houston Fire Department was called to the scene but were denied entry.
During the interview, Rubio didn't mince words in regard to what he believed to be true of the consulate.
"This consulate is basically a front," he said. "It's kind of the central node of a massive spy operation — commercial espionage, defense espionage, also influence agents to try to influence Congress. They use businessmen as fronts in many cases to try to influence members of Congress and other political leaders at the state and local level. So it's long overdue that it be closed.
"What'll happen is the secretary of state, probably already has de-marched the ambassador — basically called him in, told him we are going to do this, told him why — and given their agents, that we know who they are, 72 hours to leave the country. If they don't leave within 72 hours, they'll be arrested as spies," Rubio said.
Sen Rubio Joins Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business to Talk China & Plans for a Fourth Stimulus Package youtu.be
"When your embassy or consulate is closed, they start destroying everything in there, they have a plan of destruction," Rubio added. "For us the Marines are in charge of doing that if someone closes our embassy. So they'll burn documents and shred documents and destroy computers and so forth. ... Now what will happen is the Chinese will respond. They will close one of our facilities somewhere in China, probably Wuhan."
The senator also tweeted about the consulate Wednesday morning.
#China’s consulate in #Houston is not a diplomatic facility. It is the central node of the Communist Party’s vast n… https://t.co/ED5XhhZ2MQ— Marco Rubio (@Marco Rubio)1595421932.0
In a statement confirming the news that the consulate had been shut down, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said, "The United States will not tolerate [China's] violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated [its] unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior."
The move by the U.S. came as the country has been taking a more aggressive approach against the Chinese Communist Party's long-standing intellectual property theft tactics.
The Justice Department and FBI had recently announced charges against two Chinese nationals for allegedly "hacking into the computer systems of hundreds of victim companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States and abroad, including Hong Kong and China."
Earlier this year, Attorney General William Barr indicated that the Chinese have been in a "full-court blitzkrieg" against the U.S. and that the Justice Department was planning action to thwart them.