‘Feel the Pain’: Beijing May Sanction Congressmen over Coronavirus Lawsuits

This photo taken 03 October, 2007 shows military officers saluting for a group photo beneath a display of national flags at a park in Beijing. China's ruling Communist Party's five-yearly gathering, it's 17th Party Congress, begins 15 October with President Hu Jintao expected to make bold power plays to cement …
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The Chinese government propaganda newspaper Global Times “exclusively” reported on Thursday that the Communist Party is looking into sanctions against American officials supporting lawsuits against Beijing for causing the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

Among those listed as potential targets of sanctions are the attorney general of Missouri – the first state to sue the Chinese Communist Party in U.S. court over the pandemic – Eric Schmitt; Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Tom Cotton (R-AR); and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), among others.

The Global Times cited “sources close to the matter,” without elaborating, and did not offer any timeline for potential sanctions. It suggested that among the potential sanctions against those mentioned could be bans to travel into China, which would include nominally autonomous regions like Hong Kong, and economic sanctions against doing business with China.

One of the Global Times‘ many Communist Party-approved “experts” asserted in the newspaper’s report that China “should impose countermeasures that could make them feel the pain.”

The newspaper claimed that Beijing is not currently seeking to similarly punish the many other governments entertaining lawsuits against the Communist Party for hiding the contagious nature of the Chinese coronavirus and censoring pivotal safety information in a manner that scientists have concluded led to the regional outbreak in Wuhan, central China, turning into a pandemic. Countries like Nigeria, Italy, and Egypt are currently entertaining lawsuits against China over the pandemic.

“China is extremely dissatisfied with the abuse of litigation by the US against China over the COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] epidemic and mulling punitive countermeasures against US individuals, entities and state officials such as Missouri’s attorney general Eric Schmitt,” the Global Times claimed. “At least four U.S. Congress lawmakers and two entities will be put onto China’s sanction list, according to analysts.”

The newspaper did not identify the four lawmakers, instead speculating separately from the claims by “sources” that a significant number of members of Congress may be targets of sanctions because of their calls for justice on the part of the victims of the Chinese coronavirus:

Those Republicans who have been harshly criticizing China and inflaming this “holding China accountable” political farce will face severe consequences.

[…]

Josh Hawley – a Missouri Republican – who came up with the “Justice for Victims of COVID-19 Act” in mid-April which would take away China’s sovereign immunity and permit US citizens to sue the Chinese government for downplaying COVID-19 information. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw also introduced legislation that would allow Americans to sue China over the coronavirus.

A day later, Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey proposed the likewise bill to strip China of its sovereign immunity and allow Americans to sue the Chinese government, according to his official website. Republican Jim Banks also joined the blame game in condemning the Chinese government’s handling of the epidemic outbreak.

The Times also identified “GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, Martha McSally from Arizona and Lance Gooden of Texas … [and] Jim Holzapfel, Greg McGuckin and John Catalano” as potential targets.

The propaganda outlet did not specify what the “sources” claimed the consequences for these public officials will be for challenging the Communist Party. It turned instead to its “experts,” who noted that Missouri, in particular, engages in a high volume of trade with China that Beijing could easily cut off.

“China was the third-largest export destination for Missouri, after the UK and Canada, for goods and services in 2019 worth $1.1 billion and $775 million, respectively. Some of the top goods exported to China included oilseeds and grains, meat products, and medicine,” the Global Times noted.

An “expert” also suggested that China must “find out what the business ties are between those officials or their families with China,” referring to those in defense of lawsuits against China for its role in causing the pandemic.

In a separate article, in part an interview with an anonymous “international relations observer in Beijing,” the Global Times accuses the American officials in question of “picking quarrels.” “Picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is a discrete crime in China, one typically used to silence peaceful dissidents, religious people, or others the Communist Party deems a threat.

The anonymous “observer” expressed concern that, if American public servants are successful in suing China over the pandemic, this will send a signal to the world that other affected nations may also receive redress for what they have suffered due to the Communist Party’s negligence.

“China has to fight back, as some U.S. politicians show no sign of stopping to fabricate nasty rumors while continuing their gangster-like and cruel tactics to pressure China. If this madness continues, more countries are likely to join the shameless US blame game,” the “observer” said.

The threat of explicit action against individuals who believe the Communist Party is to blame for the severity of the pandemic – not an accusation that China genetically engineered the virus or deliberately released it, only that its actions after identifying the virus made the situation far worse than it could have been – is an escalation from previous reports in the Party newspaper. In April, the Global Times was merely threatening to allow similar lawsuits against the United States for the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The Times alleged that HIV originated in the United States, which is not a scientific fact, and that Washington exacerbated its spread at the time.

“If the US really acts that way [allows lawsuits against China], it would open a Pandora’s box and result in the collapse of the world’s sovereignty immunity system,” the Global Times asserted. “It would mean anyone could sue the US government in their own countries – an AIDS patient could sue it for compensation, for example.”

The state of Missouri sued the Chinese Communist Party in April, citing various concealing actions as having exacerbated the crisis. Among them were the widespread arrests of doctors in Wuhan who shared information on how to protect oneself from contagious diseases in January. Dr. Li Wenliang has become a martyr in anti-communist circles after being detained and forced to sign a humiliating apology statement for sharing information with other doctors on social media, urging them to wash their hands and use protective gear after treating patients with what he correctly believed was a contagious viral illness. Li allegedly died of coronavirus infection in February.

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping also urged the World Health Organization to conceal evidence that the new virus was contagious and delay declaring the outbreak a pandemic, according to a report in the German newspaper Der Spiegel last week.

“What we know is that the Chinese government engaged in a campaign of deceit and deception, of misrepresentations, of malfeasance in really critical weeks — in the months of December and January when they were aware this disease could be transmitted human to human,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in April. “And valuable time was lost all the while they were hoarding quality PPE. China went from being a net exporter of PPE to being a net importer of PPE during this time. It was really avoidable. This could have been prevented.”

The Communist Party’s actions “have been injurious to—and have significantly interfered with—the lives, health, and safety of substantial numbers of Missouri residents, ruining lives and damaging the public order and economy of the State of Missouri,” the lawsuit itself asserted. To override the principle of sovereign immunity, which bans lawsuits against state entities, Missouri attorneys contend that the Communist Party is a separate entity from the government of China.

Missouri Senator Hawley has been supportive of the lawsuit and has urged government exceptions to sovereign immunity for more of them.

“We ought to allow individuals and states to sue Beijing. We should wave their sovereign immunity. That’s just the immunity every government gets in U.S. courts. China shouldn’t get it right now,” Hawley said in an interview this month. “We didn’t give the 9/11 hijackers immunity after the 9/11 massacre. We shouldn’t be giving Beijing immunity after what they have done to this country.”

Sen. Blackburn and Rep. Gooden are sponsoring a bill in Congress that would create legal exceptions to sovereign immunity for China.

“The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to lie to the world about this deadly and costly outbreak. … We cannot rely on the Chinese government to be honest, which means we cannot afford to accept the narrative the CCP wants us to believe,” the two lawmakers wrote in an opinion article last month. “If we grow to understand how the COVID-19 crisis escalated from a regional outbreak into a global tragedy, we may be able to prevent the disastrous consequences of future pandemics. By unleashing the investigatory power of our legal system, we can discover the truth, prepare for the future, and ensure the people get the answers they deserve.”

 Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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