Ending China’s Era of Impunity in the Age of COVID-19

Posted: Jun 11, 2020 3:45 PM
Ending China’s Era of Impunity in the Age of COVID-19

Source: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP

The COVID-19 pandemic lifted the veil separating China from the rest of the world, and exposed the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) duplicity. Undoubtedly, U.S. lawmakers and officials will find more widespread acceptance of these revelations helpful as we rethink our country’s relationship with Beijing.

The CCP’s response to the initial COVID outbreak in Wuhan closed a bridge that the United States should have dismantled a long time ago. We know for a fact that the Chinese government waited 51 days before warning the public about the dangerous new virus they had discovered.  High-level Party officials terrorized doctors and journalists who dared speak out against official propaganda, and refused to cooperate with international health organizations. These were not accidents, but willful attempts to run damage control in advance of imminent disaster.

Eventually, our economy will recover, and we will emerge from quarantine; but what’s to be done about the irreparable damage inflicted upon the health and livelihoods of the American people? The tens of millions of jobs destroyed, trillions of dollars in economic loss, and over 100,000 deaths have taken a catastrophic toll on our collective psyche. The knowledge that this level of damage was avoidable is salt in an open wound.

CCP officials knew of the danger, and lied about it; now, we must hold them accountable for the consequences of their very calculated actions. The bicameral Stop China-Originated Viral Infectious Diseases (COVID) Act, already awaiting consideration in both chambers of Congress, would make China legally and financially liable for unleashing the virus on our country. By building on existing law in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, we can eliminate sovereign immunity for states that spread biological agents like COVID-19, and empower Americans to sue China for damages in U.S. court. We found precedent for this legislation in another bill passed in 2016 in response to the September 11 attacks. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act awarded more legal remedies to the victims of terror attacks and their families; in 2017, more than 2,000 plaintiffs took advantage of JASTA’s passage and filed a lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For decades, Beijing has hidden behind a wall of propaganda and false diplomacy, emboldened by their critical role in the international order. We have no choice but to end this era of impunity and punish their latest, shameless conspiracy to weaken the global economy and fill the resulting power vacuum with their own toxic influence.  

In time, corporations and educational institutions will come to the table and work with Congress to repatriate critical supply chains, train and deploy an advanced domestic workforce, and secure telecommunications data and infrastructure against Chinese attacks; but these solutions cannot address the personal tragedy that the CCP inflicted upon the American people.

We grant the privilege of sovereign immunity to foreign officials as a sign of diplomatic good faith. The Stop COVID Act acknowledges that this good faith cannot endure alongside premeditated turmoil, and affirms what millions of Americans know to be true: that those responsible for our suffering are no more deserving of this privilege than they would be if they had personally infected the 115,000 Americans who have now died at the hands of the CCP.