Chinese State Media: U.S. ‘Is Likely to Regret’ Holding Beijing Accountable for Coronavirus

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and US President Donald Trump attend their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese state media is still cranking out editorials denouncing U.S. lawsuits intended to hold Beijing accountable for the death and damage inflicted by the Wuhan coronavirus, suggesting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is more than a little worried about backlash from the pandemic, even if the legal principle of sovereign immunity protects it from these particular lawsuits.

As it has done in previous editorial broadsides against the suits, China’s state-run Global Times on Sunday expressed blustery confidence that sovereign immunity will protect the CCP from foreign efforts to collect damages for the pandemic. 

The Global Times added some taunting about the number of coronavirus cases in the United States (which are reported honestly, unlike the highly questionable data Beijing has always provided on the Wuhan virus) and claimed the lawsuits filed by states like Missouri and Mississippi are merely political stunts to distract the American people from their misery.

Then, as always with CCP communiques, came the analysis from nameless “experts” and thinly-veiled threats:

It is shocking to see such naïve and absurd attempts to overturn basic international norms and it is even more pathetic to see some Americans support such an attempt. They must have lost their minds and want to push the US into the abyss. 

Some Chinese analysts assert that to the US, the COVID-19 pandemic was actually “a black elephant” – a cross between “a black swan” and the “elephant in the room.” What Republican politicians have done and been up to will only further harm the US. Even though they know the US government is likely to regret it later if the US Congress removes China’s immunity in the heat of an election year, they will not stop lawsuits against China, and the White House stands behind them. 

The right course of action for the US side is to dismiss this abusive lawsuit. Even US professors consider the proposals by Republican lawmakers to remove China’s immunity to be a total nightmare. But those lawmakers won’t stop focusing on wrong concerns while ignoring what is really urgent for them and for the US. Are they still living in a fantasy where the US can provoke other countries and then escape unscathed? They really should wake up. 

Most people with a sober mind will see through political temptation of Republicans’ moves against China in this election year. The US government has stigmatized its reputation internationally due to its handling of COVID-19. In the meantime, some Republican lawmakers have targeted legal obstacles to their pursuit of personal interests. Is there anything they dare not do?

The US government has become infamous for repeatedly ducking responsibility on China over its own failings. If the US triggers a domino effect by stripping China of its sovereign immunity, it will probably be disdained by all other countries.  

Legal analysts generally find it unlikely that any of the coronavirus lawsuits against the CCP will clear the sovereign immunity hurdle, although Georgetown University law professor David Stewart told The Hill that the probably-doomed Missouri suit was at least “well thought out and professionally written.” 

Missouri’s key strategy is to essentially portray the CCP’s deceptive handling of the Wuhan epidemic as a form of malignant commercial activity involving exported goods, health care data, and social media, to aim for the commercial activity exemption in the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FISA).

“What we know so far is that the Chinese government is engaged in a campaign of deceit and deception and misrepresentations, misled the world in critical weeks in December and January about the nature of this virus, this deadly virus that’s been unleashed to the world,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt told Neil Cavuto of Fox News on Saturday.

When Cavuto asked about sovereign immunity and the very slim chances of the CCP ever admitting that it did anything wrong, Schmitt explained the commercial activity angle:

“It’s a fair question,” the attorney general said. “And typically, and I think what you’re getting to is it’s a sovereign nation, and they claim protections. So we’ve alleged public nuisance, negligence, not just how they handled this, but also with a lot of other factors of them dealing with the situation, but it’s important under the [Foreign] Sovereign Immunities Act, there are exceptions to that.”

“There’s a commercial activity exception, so we allege that they’re handling with the Wuhan virology lab, the hoarding of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], they went from a net exporter to a net importer of PPE — all the while keeping the world in the dark and then also running the hospital system. Those are objective commercial activities that we believe fits squarely into the exception under the [Foreign] Sovereign Immunities Act, which is why we believe our claim has merit,” he added.

The Washington Post reported last week that several Republican lawmakers are proposing plans to penalize China for the coronavirus and recover some of the emergency spending necessary to combat it, ranging from canceling Chinese debts to applying punitive tariffs to Chinese goods.

Most of these tactics carry the same risk of retaliatory action the Global Times was eager to highlight, from damage to sovereign debt ratings around the world to another trade war. The problem for Beijing could be the diplomatic fallout from the world seeing the CCP backed into a corner, defending itself with threats and invocations of legal technicalities. Promises of mutually assured destruction may be effective, but they are rarely charming.

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