Creating accountability for offenses, legal and moral, by individuals and nations against humanity – is hard. Whether committed with intent, recklessness, or negligence, establishing legal liability and enforcing consequences in international relations is doubly hard. Still, accountability matters. If China is responsible for the release of Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), as the US government – and global science – now believe “likely,” what can be done?
The answer begins with what cannot be done. The first – understandably angry and justified – response is to look President Xi in the eye and demand answers, which unfortunately, with a deceptive, untruthful, immoral communist leader, is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
China – Xi in particular – has already denied, deflected, blocked international inquiries, and said “nothing to see” at Wuhan, denying all responsibility for COVID-19’s devastating spread.
Never mind the world is coming to a consensus, that China is not only responsible for the release of the engineered virus – an admission even Mr. Fauci made in private emails in early 2020, despite public denunciation of the theory – but allowed the biological forest fire to rage, pretending it knew nothing, silencing those inside China who tried to contain the virus.
All this leads to a natural question, the answer to which is “no, we cannot go there.” Was this a sort of biological warfare? Is it possible the release was intentional? If so, under existing conventions, does that constitute a war crime? Is that a route for establishing accountability?
Unfortunately, no. The topic is politically and legally radioactive, not least because war crimes requires a wartime predicate, which is missing here. This also targets one of the most important countries – for better and worse – on the planet, our top adversary. If the idea of intentional release is worth discussing, and was by a 2020 NIH study, it is hard to fathom, harder to prove.
That study, incidentally, did admit it remained vital to “lay bare the true cause of this devastation,” including possible release as “a viral bioweapon” or “laboratory leak.” Bluntly, it said “one microbe has just devastated our world … shattered economies, upended patterns of life globally, and already killed 3.5 million people,” with “more than 85 million cases … documented worldwide in less than one year.”
Unfortunately, contrary to the current consensus and based on minimal data in 2020 – since China blocked World Health Organization inquiries – that study concluded a bioweapon or leak was unlikely – ironic, since they noted China’s bioresearch labs are notorious for leaks.
But now we are in a new world, with the leak from Wuhan – intentional, reckless, or negligent – deemed by most to be “likely,” the question thus, who pays? How will China pay?
The notion of going after Xi for a war crime or some similar legal offense under international law is appealing, particularly as China fanned that fire and continues to lie – about everything. But that avenue is virtually closed. While biological warfare has a long history, could easily occur on a mass scale, and China has already been accused of “genocide” – a war crime – against the Uighurs, international conventions are ill-fitted to bring China and Xi to heal.
Even as the world contemplates war crimes by Russia’s President Putin against Ukraine, going after Xi would be hard. Equally hard would be calling Xi out personally since evidence is required to create personal liability, and China has not been forthcoming.
While a circumstantial case for Xi’s immoral leadership is strong, and for China’s endemic carelessness, negligence, even recklessness with human life, tying Xi to the leak personally is hard, as is tying Putin directly to specific actions in the field in Ukraine.
So what is left? The real answer is this: China and President Xi should be publicly held to account, made the object of international condemnation and rebuke, a case made with data and clarity that shames and holds them responsible for this de facto massacre in the public square.
At a time when there is a global contest of ideas, one in which communism’s immoral, deceitful and oppressive culture wishes to overtake or “dominate” the Western cultures focus on freedom, individual liberty, and government’s accountability to the people, this is “Exhibit One.
A major push should be undertaken – in a bipartisan way in the US, then multi-nationally by all the devastated nations – to hold China to account by demonstrating that Communism’s approach to humanity, dodging, weaving, lying, oppressing, and defying truth is immoral and illegitimate.
If the international criminal courts, human rights conventions, and international sanctions are hard to apply to China, which slips like Jell-O on the wall, the court of public opinion should be brought to life.
All the world knows that China did this, refuses responsibility for what they did, and should pay – so let them pay by massive loss of reputation, and let us “deep six” the notion that Chinese Communism has any legitimacy. It does not. China’s culpability for COVID-19, and deceit in denying that culpability, proves it.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.