Civil complaint, lawsuits filed from Wuhan against US over racist terminology hard to proceed

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/28 13:05:34 Last Updated: 2020/3/29 0:25:36

People wear face masks as they walk down a street in Flushing area of Queens on Monday in New York City. Photo: AFP

Multiple civil complaints are surfacing in Wuhan as citizens are resorting to means from lawsuit to cosigned petitions to demonstrate their anger against some US politicians blaming the novel coronavirus outbreak on China.

Many believe it’s the US soldiers who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Such complaints came as some US politicians have repeatedly tamped down China’s efforts in controlling the COVID-19. US lawyers are also mulling a push to open an investigation into the Chinese government.

Analysts said the legal cases are unlikely to be admitted by courts based on complex criteria for the admissibility of the case in both China and US, and call for calm and cooperation in fighting the pandemic.

A group of US House lawmakers led by Jim Banks and Seth Moulton initiated a resolution on March 24 accusing the Chinese’s government of “mishandling” coronavirus outbreak, and called for an international probe into “China’s hiding” of the origin of the pandemic, US media reported.

US politicians including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have repeatedly made racist remarks by calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus." The US Embassy in Beijing exacerbated the dispute and provoked Chinese netizens as it posted two statements on its Sina Weibo account on Thursday that referred to COVID-19 as "Wuhan virus."

Liang Xuguang, a lawyer based in Wuhan, filed a lawsuit and complaints against four defendants – US Federal Government, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Defense, and United States Military Sports Council – to Wuhan Intermediate People's Court, and also emailed his suit to the US embassy in China.

A Beijing-based law firm, Gaotong Law Firm, has also sent an attorney letter to the White House through its official website and delivered a hard copy to Terry Branstad, US ambassador to China, on March 23, demanding an apology for misuse of the term “Chinese virus” to represent COVID-19.

Liang requested that the four defendants should jointly compensate him for lost incomes of 150,000 yuan ($21,170.90) and psychological damages of 50,000 yuan, as he believed the US government “intentionally labeled some people infected with an unknown type of virus (novel coronavirus) as flu patients to spread misinformation to the world and to conceal the true situation of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the US.”

Liang’s main evidence is the relevant information and data published in the media.

Some influenza deaths might have been COVID-19 cases, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 11. 

The US has the responsibility to make clear the number of related cases, to find the first case and to further explain whether influenza patients showed the same symptoms as infected with COVID-19, Liang said.

He also requested the US federal government publicly apologize to Wuhan citizens in Chinese national media over some senior politicians’ calling COVID-19 “Chinese virus," which seriously infringed upon the rights and reputation of Wuhan citizens.

Liang told the Global Times that Chinese lawyers should make their voices heard, no matter whether the court accepts the indictment or not.

Wuhan Intermediate People's Court said it has not received Liang’s indictment.

“All legal cases were suspended now, and the workers were all devoted to prevention and control of the epidemic in the community,” a staff member told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"With an incomplete chain of evidence, it is highly unlikely that the court will be able to hear the case. The political intent of the case is greater than its legal significance. And requiring a government to be held legally liable for outbreaks of a disease is unlikely to be supported under the current legal framework,” Wang Liwan, associate professor at China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times, commenting on Liang’s case.

“Civil cases involving foreign countries as defendants should be submitted to the local high court or even the Supreme People's Court according to Chinese law,” said Wang.

Civil complaints against US politicians has continued as more than 30 Wuhan citizens launched a cosigned letter on March 16 to ask the US government to disclose information about the US athletes who participated in the Military World Games, and reveal their health conditions before and after the games to see relation to the virus.  

“The US side connected the novel coronavirus with China when Wuhan was suffering from the epidemic, which made me and my friends angry,” Qiu, one of the signatories in Wuhan, told the Global Times.

“We have suspicions the virus was brought to Wuhan by the US athletes,” Qiu said, adding that “it is weird that hundreds of US athletes didn’t win a single gold plate.”

Beijing Gaotong Law Firm sent a letter of attorney to the White House on Monday demanding an apology for previous misuse of “Chinese virus.”

“The origin of the novel coronavirus is a very serious scientific and technical issue, which needs to be identified by scientists through traceability,” it said.

A senior partner of Beijing Gaotong Law Firm told the Global Times on Tuesday they wanted to sue the US federal government in early March when a US law firm claimed they would sue China, but later found it would be difficult to proceed.

He also sent a hard copy of the letter of attorney to the US Embassy in China. The courier tracking system shows that the embassy in Beijing received the letter at 9 on Tuesday morning, the senior partner said.

Many overseas Chinese appreciated Gaotong Law Firm for speaking up for them. The senior partner’s friends worried he wouldn’t be able to obtain a US visa anymore and were even concerned for his safety.

Global Times reached both the US Embassy to China and US Consulate General Wuhan for both cases initiated by Liang and Beijing Gaotong Law Firm but has not received any responses as of press time.

Some legal experts believe it would be difficult for both sides to file the lawsuit.

For cases brought by lawyers in the US against China, US courts have no jurisdiction over suits against the Chinese government because of sovereign immunity, Liang Shuying, an international law expert at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.

This is based in customary international law and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of the United States, she added.

Neither American individuals nor the US government can bring a case against China before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), because China is not a party to the Statute of ICJ and it has no jurisdiction over China. Moreover, the ICJ does not hear cases brought by individuals, Liang noted, adding that it is also hard for Chinese lawyers to succeed in suing the US.

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