BEIJING China said on Friday one of its diplomats and his family were "harassed and assaulted" in Houston and lodged a complaint with the U.S. State Department.
According to a CBS News report, the diplomat was arrested and injured on Saturday by Houston police, who were unaware he was a diplomat when they handcuffed him on the property of the Chinese consulate in Houston.
In a statement, the Houston mayor's office said three police officers had been placed on desk duty "pending an investigation into the arrest and injury" of the diplomat, Yu Boren, during the incident at the consulate's parking garage.
"The officers involved have stated that they were unaware the building Yu entered was the Chinese Consulate," the mayor's office said, adding the police chief is ensuring "all beat officers" receive addresses of every consulate in the city."
The State Department said it was investigating the incident, which is embarrassing to Washington because the embassies and consulates of foreign governments are treated as sovereign territory and diplomats typically enjoy immunity from prosecution by the host government.
In an entry on its website, the Chinese foreign ministry said "It is understood that China's Houston deputy consul and his family were harassed and assaulted while driving back to the consulate in their car."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the Chinese government had lodged "solemn representations" with the United States about the incident.
"Protecting the safety of all foreign diplomatic and consular staff in the United States is essential," Jiang said in a statement on the ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
The State Department said it was investigating the matter.
"We take it seriously," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. "It started as a police encounter based on either an expired plate or the lack of a license plate.
"We share the concern that China has about its diplomats." he added. "We are investigating."
Beijing's relations with Washington have been strained recently over everything from the value of China's currency to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
However, in a sign ties may be improving, Chinese President Hu Jintao attended a summit on nuclear security hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington earlier this month and the two met for 90 minutes on April 12.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Jeremy Laurence and Todd Eastham)
(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Houston and Arshad Mohammed in Washington)