Last week, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX-05) introduced a bill that would open the door for robust legal action to be taken against China for their connection to the coronavirus.
Under current law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) limits lawsuits in U.S. courts against foreign governments.
Gooden’s legislation, the Stop China-Originated Viral Infectious Diseases (COVID) Act of 2020 (H.R. 6444), would make an exception for nations that are found, “whether intentionally or unintentionally, to have discharged a biological weapon…in the United States or such discharge results in the bodily injury of a United States citizen.”
By allowing lawsuits against the communist Chinese government to proceed, the Stop COVID Act could help spur an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus.
“China currently enjoys immunity from US litigation, even if it becomes known that China manufactured this deadly virus,” said Gooden. “The Stop COVID Act will give our legal system the power to investigate the origin of the virus and, if found guilty hold accountable those responsible for creating and releasing it.”
Others have pointed to a wet market in Wuhan as the source of the virus, but that theory has been doubted since a third of the first cases had no direct exposure to the market.
An investigation is needed to find more evidence and determine the source of the virus, but U.S. officials are skeptical that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be forthcoming with the legitimate causes given that they have a track history of repeated lies and suppressing information.
Lawmakers doubt the effectiveness of an investigation from international organizations as well, especially since the World Health Organization (WHO) has consistently parroted information and propaganda from the CCP, including data on the number of COVID cases in China.
China also has plenty of influence within the United Nations — including a new seat in the Human Rights Council — to deter investigations from reaching any conclusions without their approval.
Such international organizations have done little to address the litany of well-recorded corruption within the modern CCP — from the blatant oppression of Muslim Uyghurs to unlawful trade practices that have stolen millions of dollars from U.S. businesses.
If Gooden’s bill is passed, it would not be the first time such an exception has been made to the FSIA.
In 2016, Congress overrode President Obama’s veto to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was designed to allow families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to continue a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement in the attack.
Gooden is also not alone in introducing legislation targeting China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
He co-sponsored a resolution from Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) condemning the nation for their failures that have proliferated the worldwide crisis.
A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) have both introduced legislation in their respective chambers (S.Res. 552 and H.Res. 909) calling for an international investigation to determine why China failed to take proactive steps to successfully contain the virus.
If new information is uncovered that incriminates the CCP — whether through the litigation process, an international investigation, or otherwise — Gooden’s legislation would allow China to be held accountable in U.S. courts.
Of course, at this point, the greatest obstacle for the legislation is the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
Democrats in Congress have been slow to criticize the Chinese government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Many have focused instead on arguing that the use of the term “Chinese virus” is xenophobic, signing on to a resolution condemning “all forms of anti-Asian sentiment” that might be on the rise due to the pandemic.
As of this week, Gooden and his legislative team have begun the process of looking for cosponsors in the House to support the bill.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.