Two of Missouri’s top Republican elected officials apparently feel they need to do something dramatic to demonstrate they can lead during a global pandemic. So Sen. Josh Hawley and Attorney General Eric Schmitt have decided to haul China into court. A visibly trembling President Xi Jinping is so devastated he has dropped to his knees and begged for mercy. Not.
Back here on Earth, a planet to which Hawley and Schmitt seem only loosely tethered, the prospects of wringing any kind of settlement from Beijing for its role in the coronavirus pandemic are probably close to nil. China’s official reaction is that Schmitt’s lawsuit is “very absurd.”
President Donald Trump, despite his temporary flirtation with renaming the disease the “Chinese virus,” seems far more intent on restoring trade ties with China and reviving the global economy. The last thing Trump needs is a freshman Midwestern senator and an appointed state attorney general imperiling his fragile diplomacy.
Despite lots of speculation, only a few facts are known about how the coronavirus reached U.S. shores. It started in December in the city of Wuhan, China. It’s not even clear when the first case arose on U.S. shores and how the first victim was infected. Travelers from Wuhan were probably the culprits, but others who had recently been to Europe and on cruise ships also spread the disease. Missouri’s first case could have come from anywhere.
Proving China’s direct culpability for Missouri’s current suffering would require an inordinate amount of time, energy and financial resources that the state simply doesn’t have. China’s lapses were certainly compounded by weeks of delays by Trump in preparing for the approaching pandemic — long after China had first alerted the world to the problem.
Hawley is asking the Senate and House to join him in passing a long-shot bill to “strip China of its sovereign immunity” and allow individual Americans to sue the Chinese Communist Party for redress. Beijing silenced whistleblowers and withheld critical information about the virus, he says.
“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 an April 14 statement.
Schmitt’s lawsuit, as if channeling Hawley’s viscerally manufactured outrage, alleges that an “appalling campaign of deceit, concealment, misfeasance, and inaction by Chinese authorities unleashed this pandemic.” Schmitt seeks unspecified civil and punitive damages, and asks a judge to order the Chinese government to “abate the nuisance” and “cease engaging in the abnormally dangerous activities.”
As of press time, China was still a sovereign country not bound by the orders of U.S. judges. Perhaps that could change around the time hell freezes over or Trump apologizes for something. In the meantime, these two high-profile Missouri Republicans certainly must have more productive ways to spend their time than useless political grandstanding.
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