China targets GOP hawks, US firms, states over lawsuits

By Chen Qingqing and Li Sikun Published: 2020/5/14 0:33:13 Last Updated: 2020/5/14 11:23:13

Countermoves meant to inflict pain for abuse of litigation

China US Photo:Global Times

China is extremely dissatisfied with the abuse of litigation by the US against China over the COVID-19 epidemic, and is considering punitive countermeasures against US individuals, entities and state officials, such as Missouri's attorney general Eric Schmitt, who filed a lawsuit against China,  seeking compensation for the coronavirus pandemic, sources close to the matter told the Global Times exclusively. At least four US Congress members, including Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton, and two entities will be put on China's sanctions list, analysts said. 

China won't just strike back symbolically, but will impose countermeasures that will make them feel the pain, analysts said. 

Some US lawmakers and state governors as well as attorneys who are also GOP hawks have filed lawsuits against China, alleging that the Chinese government mishandled the epidemic and it caused severe economic consequences in the US.

At least six lawsuits have been filed against China in US federal courts, while some lawmakers have also introduced bills to make it easier to sue China despite legal hurdles and no realistic possibility for US states to achieve their goal. Missouri became the first state in the US to sue the Chinese government. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit on April 21, claiming that China did little to stop the spread of the virus and "lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19," claiming that Missouri residents may have suffered tens of billions of dollars in economic damage.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch followed suit in a move that was slammed as "ridiculous" and "absurd" by Chinese officials and experts. The suit allows Mississippians to seek justice and hold China accountable, Fitch was quoted as saying in a report by Fox News on April 25.

Republicans who have been groundlessly accusing China and inflaming the "holding China accountable" political farce will face severe consequences, sources said, noting that the aftermath will also impact the upcoming November elections, while business and trade between Missouri and China will be further soured. 

Senators who actively pushed the anti-China bill over the pandemic including Josh Hawley - a Missouri Republican - who came up with the "Justice for Victims of COVID-19 Act" in mid-April, which would strip China's sovereign immunity and permit US citizens to sue the Chinese government for downplaying COVID-19 information. Cotton and Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw also introduced legislation that would allow Americans to sue China over the coronavirus.

When asked about China's punitive measures targeting those GOP politicians and entities, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a routine press conference that some people in the US have failed to fight the COVID-19 and failed to live up to the trust of the American people. Instead of thinking about how to improve their work, they have been excessively blaming others and shifting responsibilities while obsessing with political manipulation. Recently, GOP's playbook of attacking China has also been exposed by American media, showing their ill-intentioned tactics, Zhao said. 

"Chinese side urged the US side to stop blaming and smearing China, stop pushing forward anti-China bills and stop acts of abusing litigation against China and focus on safeguarding American people's lives and health," he said, noting that such blame game is too absurd, ridiculous, which should be ended. 

Abuse of litigation 

On April 16, Cotton introduced legislation that would allow Americans to sue China in federal court to recover damages for death, injury, and economic harm caused by the coronavirus. Specifically, the bill would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to create a narrow exception for damages caused by China's handling of the coronvirus outbreak. A day later, Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey proposed a similar bill calling for stripping China of its sovereign immunity and allowing Americans to sue the Chinese government, according to his official website. Republican Jim Banks also joined the blame game in condemning the Chinese government's handling of the epidemic.

For those lawmakers, anti-China agendas have almost fully covered their daily routines. In fact, Hawley introduced legislation along with Republican Rick Scott on March 12 to ban all federal employees from using TikTok on government devices. Smith has also been a frequent instigator on China-related topics, particularly on so-called human rights issues. In March 2019, Smith introduced legislation to tackle China's political influence in the US by saying "Beijing's influence operations are sophisticated and threatening."

"American Congresspeople who hold an anti-China stance like Smith have been long-term hawks on China-relevant topics such as Taiwan and Xinjiang. And Republicans like Hawley are also backed by some US defense companies and other companies that compete with Chinese firms," Diao Daming, a US studies expert at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

The expert also noted that on certain topics, the US Congress is a very complex organization, which is also an opinion-driven organization that sometimes makes irrational decisions often influenced by a small group of people, Diao noted. 

Other GOP lawmakers have been actively pushing forward a bill that would facilitate suing China, such as one introduced by GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, Martha McSally from Arizona and Lance Gooden of Texas. Also, Republicans lawmakers from New Jersey - namely, Jim Holzapfel, Greg McGuckin and John Catalano - are introducing a resolution urging US President Donald Trump and US Congress to pass a bill that lets US citizens sue China, media reported.

US lawyer Larry Klayman and his advocacy group Freedom Watch, along with Texas company Buzz Photos, also filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government. The plaintiffs have sought $20 trillion from China. 

China has repeatedly stressed that cooperation between China and the US is mutually beneficial while always maintaining the hope that bilateral relations will develop in a healthy direction. However, we cannot back down again and again and tolerate some people who have repeatedly undermined China-US relations, analysts said. 

"We must resolutely hit back at those politicians who, for no reason, undermine China-US ties for their own political benefits. For those who promote anti-China legislation, we need to find out what the business ties are between those officials or their families with China," Yuan Zheng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"We can't just strike back symbolically, but should impose countermeasures that could make them feel the pain," Yuan said.

Impact on elections 

For some US states, China's sanctions might have a direct impact on the upcoming elections in November if local Republicans have been targeted by the Chinese government for their groundless accusation against Beijing and endless attacks that put China-US relations in a danger, analysts said. 

For instance, China is the third-largest export destination for Missouri, after the UK and Canada, for goods and services in 2019 worth $1.1 billion and $775 million, respectively. Some of the top goods exported to China included oilseeds and grains, meat products, and medicine. 

"While the Chinese government makes adjustments to business relations between China and states like Missouri or Mississippi, local economies would likely be under pressure, or special interests of certain officials might be affected," Diao said. 

Missouri, together with other states like Michigan, South Carolina and Texas, had taken measures to make it easier for Chinese investment to come in and boost local job growth years ago. For example, in 2013, one week before Chinese company Shuanghui purchased Smithfield Foods, the Missouri legislature amended a law clearing the way for approval.

Hong Lei, then Chinese Consulate General in Chicago, said in a speech in 2017 that Chinese companies invested more than $1.1 billion in Missouri, creating 4,500 jobs.

China could impose the countermeasures on the relevant states represented by those anti-China lawmakers, including measures targeting trade and exchanges, Yuan said. "Those officials should be held responsible for what they said. However, we need to strike a balance between punishing them and not diminishing them all," he added.

Some Missouri companies, for example, have long-term investments in China and are likely to feel severe consequences if China strikes back with punitive measures in response to the coronavirus lawsuit. Emerson Electric, which was founded in Missouri, has significant operations in China, and just opened its largest overseas research and development center in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province in 2019.

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