How does the world hold China accountable? That question might be asked about China’s international law violations, human rights abuses, space and maritime aggression, oppression of Hong Kong and Taiwan, which lies on the big stage. Right now, it is being asked – by a growing chorus – about COVID-19.
After 17 months of denying China’s Wuhan virology lab enhanced (via “gain-of-function” research), leaked, and denied originating what killed 3.54 million people, sickened 170 million, caused tens of trillions in damages across 222 countries, experts are coming to one conclusion: “Overwhelming circumstantial evidence” points to China. The question is – what is to be done?
Answers are several. One stands out. For starters, China’s denials of wrongdoing are hollow. So real is evidence – including military involvement – that the Biden Administration, after deferring investigation, reversed course and ordered an intelligence probe. Congress is demanding declassification.
Next question: How does the United States, or any country, hold Communist China accountable for a devastating pandemic blow to national economies as China roars? What are 3.65 million lives worth?
The answers given by most international observers – from private litigators and State Attorneys General to members of Congress and former diplomats – are unsatisfying. Use lawsuits or sanctions.
Some say lawsuits for money damages – foreign sovereign immunity notwithstanding – are the right answer. They argue that China’s actions are so egregious they warrant an exception (just like terrorism) to sovereign immunity, and China can be held liable.
Others say, while sovereign immunity bars lawsuits against China, the pandemic event calls for a legislative exception. Much like terrorism, China should be made liable – by law – to pandemic suits.
Finally, those who think more in terms of government sanctions and tariffs suggest the right answer is US trade penalties against China, in effect tariffs to fund compensation.
While these ideas are tenable, they have problems. They contain a combination of workability issues, trade-offs, and unintended consequences. For example, while state and private class actions are worth filing, the slope is steep. Exceptions to sovereign immunity are hard to establish unless commercial terrorism or a tort started on US soil, even if China’s leak and cover-up are felt globally.
Likewise, a statutory push to lift foreign sovereign immunity, legislating an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, remains worth exploring – but steep slope. Unintended consequences, including blow-back, are likely. China could invent collateral suits, expropriate US property, abrogate longstanding obligations, and hit the US economy.
Collecting on US judgments against an unwilling, obstinate communist country would be complex, fraught with extended costs, contested, probably unsuccessful. Similarly unsuccessful would be attempted litigation before international tribunals, as China has not consented.
Unilateral sanctions, an idea with appeal – founders on reality. The US purchases 4.5 times as much from China as we sell to them. China holds a considerable US debt, leverage. China has rare earths.
So, where does that leave us? We have an international offense of enormous proportions committed by an indifferent, immoral, untruthful, economically powerful, communist state. We have 122 countries suffering profound health and economic impact. We have a Chinese economy rebounding, Communist Party gloating, lingering downstream effects of the pandemic.
Nor is this a first. This is the third major disease to escape China, a country notoriously poor with research precautions, opaque when leaks occur. Their practices are a palpable danger to the world.
The answer: Blessings are sometimes well-disguised – this is one. The time is right for an all-out US-led diplomatic push to call out Communist China, highlight cross-cutting immorality, endangerment of the global community, push maximum accountability – not to one country but to the world.
This is a moment for unity, for collectively delegitimizing Chinese Communism at the source, for unifying the world in opposition to China’s human rights abuses. Letting COVID-19 rip is one.
The US should seize the moment, carpe diem. Bipartisan leadership should highlight China’s systemic immorality, not here and there but everywhere – as Ronald Reagan did the Soviet Union’s immorality – on the world stage. This is the moment to call a spade a spade, seek global buy-in for condemnation of China’s victimization of humanity, hundreds of millions of unwitting, innocent citizens in 122 nations.
In short, just as Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan fingered Soviet Communism as illegitimate, dangerous, and unaccountable – urging free nations and their own people to see stakes, options, and consequences, this is a rare moment for world leaders, led by the United States, to unite in condemning Communist China’s victimization of the world.
If this sounds too much to undertake, wrong time to hold China accountable for such egregious indifference to humanity, human rights, and civilized norms – when is the right time? Churchill and Reagan – before hailed as epic – were deemed far too worried about pre-war Germany and Cold War Soviet intentions. They spoke truth – because it was the truth. We should too.