Chinese state media once again floated the prospect of international lawsuits against the United States for supposedly being responsible for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a column Thursday, adding the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic to the list.
The Global Times and People’s Daily, two of the most prominent Chinese Communist Party English-language mouthpieces, have repeatedly responded to lawsuits against Beijing for actions it took that exacerbated the Chinese coronavirus pandemic with threats of similar lawsuits against the United States. Two American states, Missouri and Mississippi, have filed lawsuits against the Chinese Communist Party in U.S. court for its attempts to hide the outbreak when it began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
In the early days of the outbreak in January, Chinese officials arrested doctors and others sharing information on containing infectious diseases, claimed the virus was not transmissible from human to human, and pressured other countries not to limit travel across their borders from China, directly contributing to the severity of the pandemic.
Calling global outrage over the Communist Party’s behavior “bald-faced political blackmail,” the Global Times asserted that “China is never the one to be blamed” over any global woes related to the Chinese coronavirus. Instead, it identified the “arrogance of some American politicians” as the true source of humanity’s misfortune. Noting that several American states have sued the Communist Party for its role in the pandemic, the column – signed by Zhong Sheng, a pseudonym for the staff of the People’s Daily – warned that the collapse of sovereign immunity that such lawsuits would represent could result in a tidal wave of litigation against America:
Under the logic of some American politicians, the U.S. is the one to be held accountable and it should compensate the international society, for the Spanish Flu, AIDS and other epidemics, the 2008 international financial crisis which led to the collapse of countless enterprises and individuals, and the wars launched against other countries the over the years which have caused millions of innocent civilian casualties and numerous property losses.
Sovereign immunity is an international law policy that largely exempts states from litigation in domestic court systems. States can sue each other in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – where individual persons cannot lodge complains – to prevent state actors from avoiding justice. There are exemptions to sovereign immunity, however. Most recently, the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2016 allowing American individuals to sue the government of Saudi Arabia in court for damages related to the jihadist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Lawmakers in Congress, led by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), are reportedly working on similar legislation to allow lawsuits against China.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the Chinese Communist Party’s lies, deceit, and incompetence caused COVID-19 to transform from a local disease outbreak into a global pandemic,” Hawley said in a statement announcing his Justice for Victims of COVID-19 Act, which would carve out a sovereign immunity exception for China. “We need an international investigation to learn the full extent of the damage the CCP has inflicted on the world and then we need to empower Americans and other victims around the world to recover damages. The CCP unleashed this pandemic. They must be held accountable to their victims.”
While the bill moves through Congress, prosecutors in Missouri are suing the Communist Party itself and arguing that it is a separate entity from the state of the People’s Republic of China.
“On information and belief, the Communist Party is not an organ or political subdivision of the PRC, nor is it owned by the PRC or a political subdivision of the PRC, and thus it is not protected by sovereign immunity,” the lawsuit stated.
The Zhong Sheng opinion piece published Thursday is not the first time that Chinese state media made the bizarre claim that America was responsible for the HIV/AIDS outbreak of the 1980s.
“If the U.S. really acts that way, it would open a Pandora’s box and result in the collapse of the world’s sovereignty immunity system. It would mean anyone could sue the U.S. government in their own countries – an AIDS patient could sue it for compensation, for example,” the Global Times suggested in April. “The execution of such a ruling could only be carried out by forcibly depriving the defendant countries of their overseas property, which would lead to tit-for-tat retaliation and drag the world into chaos.”
Elsewhere, the People’s Daily railed against the United States to begin listening to the “civilized world,” by which it meant China and its communist allies, and stop pointing out facts about the Wuhan outbreak that are inconvenient for the Party. The newspaper called the lawsuits in America against China a “shame for human civilization” and “an affront to international law and justice.”
The People’s Daily did not mention similar lawsuits all around the world, in countries such as Egypt, Nigeria, and Italy.