As part of the United States response to the COVID-19 pandemic, holding China accountable has been at the forefront of much of that response.
Now this time, China is biting back. Reportedly, China is threatening to sanction a number of American federal and state officials in response to actions taken by the United States to target China and their handling of the coronavirus outbreak. For example, two Missourians, United States Senator Josh Hawley and State Attorney General Eric Schmitt, are on China’s list of potential sanction targets. Senator Hawley recently introduced legislation entitled “Justice for Victims of Coronavirus Act” which would strip China of its sovereign immunity and create a task force within the State Department to “launch an international investigation into Beijing’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and to secure compensation from the Chinese government.” In April, Missouri State Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court accusing China of causing the global coronavirus pandemic and asking for the Chinese repayment for the deaths in Missouri caused by the coronavirus and the damage it has done on the Missouri economy.
The article by the Global Times, which is not exactly a Chinese Communist Party propaganda outlet but is as close as one can get, also cites Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Congressmen Dan Crenshaw, Chris Smith, and Jim Banks of Texas, New Jersey, and Indiana, respectively, along with Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and a long list of other U.S. officials as potential targets for sanctions as well. Senator Cotton and Representative Crenshaw recently co-sponsored legislation that would allow Americans to sue China for damages related to the coronavirus. Congressman Smith introduced a similar bill that would remove sovereign immunity from China, while Congressman Banks introduced a resolution in March condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. State Attorney General Lynn Fitch of Mississippi filed a lawsuit against China which “allows Mississippians to seek justice and hold China accountable” and accuses the Chinese of committing a “very dangerous cover-up.”
The Global Times article also hints at China attempting to purposely tank both the Missouri and Mississippi economies as a way to directly impact the November 2020 election results in those states through “adjustments to business relations” between China and local companies. As Cornell professor and China specialist Jessica Chen Weiss told U.S. News, “While China has not typically threatened individual U.S. lawmakers or states with economic punishment, in the current environment I would not be surprised to see commerce between China and these districts suffer as a result.” According to Professor Weiss, this would be a major step by China to show the economic power and leverage it has over issues China deems central to its legitimacy.
In response to the threat of being sanctioned by China, Senator Hawley mocked the threat, tweeting: “#China does this mean my site visit to the #Wuhan lab is off?” Representative Crenshaw used the threat to show that China is being backed into a corner and is now desperate to escape the critical eye of international opinion. The congressman, in response, tweeted, “The CCP is scared. Now, their mouthpiece is suggesting that I’ll be sanctioned for trying to hold the communist regime accountable for allowing the coronavirus to spread across the world. Reality check: We’re not intimidated. We’re not backing down.” Congressman Smith responded to China’s threat by saying, “Sanctions will not silence me or anyone who wants real answers about the COVID virus’s transmission.”
Threatening to sanction Americans is just one of the ways in which China is going to start to threaten the United States for attempting to stand up to China in international affairs, not just concerning COVID-19, but also in areas such as trade, defense, human rights, intellectual property theft, etc. China will not stop until they have gained absolute power and leadership over the United States, and it is likely that the coronavirus is just one of the first of many incidents that will fracture the America-Sino relationship in the years and decades to come.