The Chinese Communist Party may have learned about the novel coronavirus as early as November 17, 2019. As late as December 31, local authorities in Wuhan falsely claimed there was no human-to-human transmission of the disease, leading the World Health Organization to downplay the threat. President Xi Jinping claimed to have personally acted as early as January 7, 2020. Yet Wuhan was not put under lockdown until January 22-23, after five million people had already left the area. According to a British nonprofit, this makes China liable under international law for as much as $4 trillion in damages — just among the G7 nations.
On Wednesday, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) called upon Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Bill Barr to bring a case against China for coronavirus damages to the U.N. International Court of Justice.
“If China’s leaders hadn’t become embarrassed by the outbreak and tried to cover up its spread, the world may have had a better chance to prepare for this or even contain it in Wuhan or China. Instead, we have a pandemic,” Banks said in a statement. “China shoulders most of that blame. Rather than succumb to the propaganda and spin of Chinese officials, the world must hold them accountable for mishandling this outbreak. If the United Nations cannot even do that, it has completely lost its purpose.”
The Henry Jackson Society (HJS), the British nonprofit, laid out ten potential avenues for governments like the U.S. to hold China accountable for violating international law by lying about the pandemic and enabling its spread.
HJS pointed to the International Health Regulations (IHR), which bind countries like China to report timely, accurate, and detailed public health information regarding potentially global pandemics. The WHO adopted these regulations after the 2003 SARS epidemic, to hold countries accountable in just this sort of scenario.
Banks also pointed to the IHR, specifically Article 6, which states that countries must provide expedited, timely, accurate, and sufficiently detailed information to the WHO about public health emergencies to prevent global pandemics. Countries like China must provide information as requested within 24 hours. According to a University of Southampton model, had China acted just three weeks earlier, the number affected by the coronavirus would have been cut by 95 percent.
On December 30, Dr. Li Wenliang sounded the alarm in an online chatroom. Four days later, the Chinese Public Security Bureau forced him to sign a letter acknowledging he made “false statement.” Almost one month later, Chinese authorities told the public that it was safe for large gatherings to celebrate the Lunar New Year on January 25.
If China refuses to submit to a fair trial in the International Court of Justice, other governments can slowly isolate Beijing from international agreements as per the United Nations Charter, Banks’ statement explained.
Banks has been an early leader on the China issue. Last month, he called on Beijing to pay reparations for the spread of the coronavirus.
“Time to begin a conversation about how to hold China accountable for Coronavirus. They, not US taxpayers, should be footing most of the bill. By rejecting CDC from studying the virus & suppressing warnings about its threat they are largely responsible for the current crisis!” he tweeted.
Time to begin a conversation about how to hold China accountable for Coronavirus. They, not US taxpayers, should be footing most of the bill. By rejecting CDC from studying the virus & suppressing warnings about its threat they are largely responsible for the current crisis!
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) March 14, 2020
Banks introduced a resolution with 49 co-sponsors condemning China’s handling of the outbreak. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), the lone Democrat originally co-sponsoring the bill, later reversed course, blaming President Donald Trump’s rhetoric for endangering Chinese Americans.
Along with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Banks is leading an emerging slate of China hawks in the Republican Party.
“This is a part of a broader generational challenge that we need to meet in terms of countering China’s influence,” Stefanik told the Washington Free Beacon. “Why do we have so many issues getting critical drugs? We’re overly reliant on China. We need to ensure that Western countries and our democratic values, our rule of law, our individual freedom, that’s where people look for global leadership.”
“China’s negligence has led to the rest of the world experiencing this crisis, and China should be held accountable for that,” Banks told the Free Beacon. “There’s no doubt that the WHO is complicit in China’s negligence and mismanagement of the virus that has caused the rest of the world such strife.”
Banks is circulating a letter to Pompeo and Barr throughout Congress, searching for others to join his call.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.