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US lawsuits aimed to contain China's rise

By Liu Huawen | China Daily | Updated: 2020-06-29 07:27


Most countries around the world are still fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic. But in the United States, where the novel coronavirus spread later than many other countries and yet it has become the worst-hit country, two US state attorneys general and lawyers on behalf of individual plaintiffs and small businesses have filed lawsuits against China, saying that because of China's mishandling of the outbreak, the virus spread across to the US, and the rest of the world, causing the country huge economic losses.

What do we make of these lawsuits? And who should bear responsibility for the losses caused by the pandemic? The key to analyzing the issues are facts and law.

It's a fact that it is not easy to trace the origin of a new virus and pinpoint its transmission pattern. The history of epidemics tells us that it takes a long time to identify a new virus or bacterium, and when and where it first appeared. This fact has not changed despite the advancement of science and technology.

Within a month of the outbreak, however, China identified the novel coronavirus as a new type of virus, reported it to the World Health Organization and shared the information along with the complete genome sequencing with the rest of the world. But many Western countries ignored China's warnings until the virus swept across Europe claiming thousands of lives. Surprisingly, even after that, the US failed to take appropriate measures to contain the virus.

On the other hand, due to their painful and tragic experiences of dealing with disasters and plagues, many developing countries in Asia and Africa took the pandemic very seriously from the beginning and imposed strict preventive and control measures.

Those governments that regale in self-pride, and thus live in denial, fail to properly respond to the situation. The US administration is the biggest example.

Since the US administration failed to fulfill its responsibility of safeguarding American people's lives and health, it has tried to make China the scapegoat in order to divert the public attention from its failure.

Although economic globalization has transformed the world into a "global village", in the legal sense, the world has not become a global village where a set of international laws are followed across borders. Besides, the US domestic laws do not either support the claim to hold China accountable for the spread of the virus or force it to pay compensation for the losses caused by the pandemic.

According to international law, a country is obliged to report an epidemic to the WHO, which China did. And there is no international law to hold a country accountable for a pandemic. Although some dispute-resolution mechanisms exist in international criminal law and global maritime law, they cannot be applied to global health issues.

Moreover, based on the principle of sovereign immunity-a long-held legal consensus that one state cannot judge the actions of another state using its own legal standards-the multiple domestic lawsuits filed by US state attorneys general and lawyers cannot be used to make China a party to any hearing in a US court, simply because they have no jurisdiction over China.

Sovereign immunity means governments of sovereign countries cannot be sued in other countries. Although there are some exceptions to sovereign immunity such as terrorist attacks, commercial acts or torts occurring in the US, China's genuine and rigorous fight against the outbreak to do not fall in that category.

The lawsuits filed by US state attorneys general and lawyers run counter to both international law and US domestic law. That some US lawmakers have proposed to "strip" China of sovereign immunity by passing new law is a gross disregard of legal principles and a serious violation of the rule of law.

There are no precedents of a country being held legally accountable for a pandemic breaking out within its boundaries. Which means the lawsuits filed by the US state attorneys general and lawyers are an attempt to divert attention from the US administration's failure to take prompt and appropriate action against the pandemic and to serve the Republicans' campaign for the US president's re-election.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, some US politicians have been trying to belittle China's achievements in the fight against the virus, and its contributions to the global pandemic control and prevention measures. Which makes it clear the US lawsuits are aimed at containing China's peaceful rise.

Since China has facts and the law in its favor, it doesn't have to give in to such blackmail. Following the principle of openness, transparency and responsibility, China will continue its fight against the coronavirus, and work with the rest of the world to promote a healthy community with a shared future.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of International Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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