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Foreign Policy

Compensation from China? No Way.

Apr 29 , 2020

The attorney general of the U.S. state of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Eastern Missouri against the Chinese government recently, claiming that it covered up the coronavirus outbreak, hoarded personal protective medical equipment and failed to contain the epidemic. He was seeking cash compensation for what the lawsuit called “the enormous loss of life, human suffering and economic turmoil experienced by all Missourians from the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted the entire world.”

The lawsuit comes as a shock because of its irrationality. First, it is totally divorced from the facts. It is widely acknowledged that after the outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province, China informed the WHO and many relevant countries and regions, including the United States, of the latest developments, and shared the genetic sequence of the virus at first opportunity. Since Jan. 22, China’s central government has held more than 25 news conferences about the national response.

Provincial governments across the country have done likewise, including Hubei. World headlines told of China’s the lockdown of Wuhan on Jan. 24 to contain the virus. The city remained closed until April 8. In those 76 days, more than 10 million residents made huge sacrifices and created a precious window of opportunity for others around the world to act.

The allegation that China hoarded medical equipment, including face masks, thus worsening the situation in many other countries, doesn’t make sense either. “China has supplied the U.S. with more than 1.4 billion masks, equivalent to one mask from every Chinese person and nearly five masks for every U.S. citizen,” said Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, in an interview with Bloomberg on April 21.

In addition, the worsening situation in the United States and Europe is not due to a shortage of masks. The real reason is the reluctance of many to wear masks — including U.S. President Donald Trump. In the eyes of some senior U.S. government officials and protesters, the order to lock down a city and force residents to wear masks violates principles of human rights, democracy and freedom. But that very action was instrumental in containing the epidemic.

As for the source of the contagion, scientific research is underway. Virus researchers and specialists in infectious diseases, including those from the World Health Organization, the United States and China, are working hard to analyze and study relevant data. Therefore, it is not reasonable for any media outlet, organization or individual — including the attorney general of Missouri, who is seeking compensation from a sovereign country — to jump to conclusions. It is unscientific, unprofessional and even immoral to push a political agenda by stigmatizing another country.

The Chinese people, especially those living in Wuhan, are also victims of COVID-19. By April 19, confirmed cases in China had reached more than 84,000, and 4,642 people had died. The pandemic has also exacted a heavy toll on the Chinese economy: It fell by 6.8 percent year-on-year in the first quarter. In Hubei, the hardest-hit part of the country, the local economy plummeted by nearly 40 percent. The cancellation of orders by U.S. companies due to the pandemic has also produced a negative impact on China’s international trade and resumption of industrial production.

So, by what logic does a government in the U.S. rightfully sue China for enormous economic losses? A decent respect for reason suggests China could just as easily sue the U.S.

Of course, China will not resort to disgraceful tactics such as those employed by the state of Missouri. The Chinese people believe in the Confucian maxim “Don't do to others what you don’t want others to do to you.” It’s a philosophy of life that has guided their lives for millennia. We stand against the stigmatization of China over the pandemic, and we will not stigmatize any other country under any excuse.

The lawsuit filed against China in Missouri is the first of its kind in the world, and the state was egged on by Trump. On Tuesday, when asked for his view on the lawsuit, Trump replied: “I love Missouri, as you know. It is great. … I do want to see and review the lawsuit. I am sure it will not be the last one.” The remark implies an intention to see more U.S. states and even countries around the world, follow in Missouri’s footsteps. 

It's just another political distraction in a presidential election year. Essentially, the lawsuit is designed to divert U.S. citizens’ attention away from their government’s failure to respond to the pandemic when it could.

It’s actually a new tactic behind a broader strategy devised by the Trump administration to shift blame to China. In fact, the administration has performed a host of ridiculous political tricks recently, from calling the pathogen the “Wuhan virus” to demanding an apology from China. Suing for compensation is just the latest but surely not the last. But the nature of the game will eventually be exposed for what it is: an attempt to find a scapegoat and create a smoke screen for the unconscionably slow pandemic response by Donald Trump.

According to Chinese astrology, a Gengzi Year occurs every 60 years. It is believed to bring with it natural disasters and crises. In the Gengzi Year of 1900, a weak and poor China had to swallow the bitter fruit of the Boxer Indemnity — a humiliating punishment imposed by the West after well-justified movement against abusive foreigners resulted in military defeat at the hands of the Eight-Nation Alliance. Now, 120 years later, a strong and prosperous China will not allow the repetition of a similar episode. Any attempt to sue the country for compensation over the coronavirus pandemic is laughably doomed to failure. 

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