China may have been using its now-closed consulate in Houston as a base of operations for industrial espionage as it seeks to be the first to hit the market with a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, Trump administration officials indicated on Friday.
The Houston facility is near the largest medical complex in the world and a bevy of research universities and critical infrastructure projects. Officials said the consulate has been used at least 50 times in the past 10 years to help recruit members of the Thousand Talents Program, China’s effort to target top Chinese and foreign experts from around the world in cutting-edge fields to bring their skills back to Beijing.
In recent years, China has made a concerted effort to leap ahead in scientific research and technology by targeting Chinese nationals and foreign experts. Chinese Consulate officials in Houston had been directly involved in communications with researchers and guided them on what information to collect, the officials said.
“From where I sit and you look at what happened with the corona outbreak in China in 2019, they have been very clear about their intent to be the first to the market with a vaccine, and the medical connections here aren’t lost on me,” a senior State Department official told reporters on Friday. “The medical connection in Houston is also pretty specific.” It was not immediately clear what trade secrets China was able to target from the facility.