Tensions between the United States and China have heightened in the past several years for reasons ranging from the trade war to sweeping intellectual property (IP) theft by Chinese companies to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) mass detention of Muslims in internment camps.
Although there was not perfect harmony among political leaders in the United States on a proper response to these growing tensions, elected officials were generally in bipartisan agreement that they needed to be addressed.
For instance, at a town hall last August, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (R-TX-35) said, “My feeling is that the original objective that Trump had [in his trade policy with China] was not an unreasonable one: that the Chinese are engaged in some illegal subsidies that they are stealing our intellectual property. But you don’t do it the way he’s done it.”
But after the coronavirus pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, partisan positions on U.S.-China relations have become more complex.
61 percent of the polled voters considered China an “enemy” or “unfriendly,” up from 52 percent in January. Meanwhile, only 29 percent considered the country an “ally” or “friendly,” down from 32 percent.
However, as noted from Morning Consult, the shift in perception was driven by Republican voters, who are now twice as likely to view China as an enemy than in January — a change from 23 to 47 percent.
While more voters said that China is responsible for the spread of the virus (48 percent) compared to those who said U.S. policies are to blame (38 percent), more voters also said that “the U.S. should focus on working together with China to combat the spread of the virus, even if it means not holding China accountable” (58 percent), than those who held that China should be held accountable for their role in the pandemic “even if it means not working together” (30 percent).
These trends underscore the approaches each major political party is currently taking toward U.S.-China relations.
Democrats have generally — with some notable exceptions — shied away from saying that China needs to be held accountable. They have called such rhetoric racist and opted to focus their criticisms on the Trump administration and its response instead.
Republicans are moving at full steam to introduce legislation specifically targeting China and have repeatedly voiced that the CCP needs to be held accountable for their role in the pandemic.
With that context in mind, The Texan is beginning a series of articles looking at how elected officials from Texas are approaching U.S.-China relations during the pandemic.
Many of their proposals could lay the groundwork for future policies that will significantly affect both Texas and the nation as a whole.
Efforts to Directly Hold China Accountable
Of the policies proposed by Texans, several are attempts to allow China to be held accountable for their role in the spread of the pandemic within the U.S. court system.
Under current law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) limits lawsuits in U.S. courts against foreign governments.
Concerned that Chinese courts would dismiss any case against its own government, Reps. Lance Gooden (R-TX-05) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02) have proposed legislation that would allow lawsuits against China or the CCP here in the United States.
Gooden’s legislation, the Stop China-Originated Viral Infectious Diseases (COVID) Act of 2020 (H.R. 6444), would make an exception under FSIA 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.”
“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.”
Crenshaw’s bill — introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) — would similarly amend FSIA to allow lawsuits against “a foreign state for physical injury or death, or injury to property or economic interests, occurring in the United States” which are caused by the spread of COVID-19 and the deliberate concealment of that spread.
“The communist regime expelled journalists, silenced whistleblowers, and withheld vital information that delayed the global response to the pandemic. Simply put: their actions cost American lives and livelihoods. This bill will help ensure China’s actions are not without consequences,” said Crenshaw.
After Gooden, Crenshaw, and other U.S. officials made similar efforts, the Chinese government placed the congressional members on their official sanctions list.
Gooden and Crenshaw responded by sending a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin requesting that several CCP members be sanctioned by the United States under the Global Magnitsky Act.
Included on the list are several Chinese officials involved in the censorship of doctors and journalists voicing concerns about the coronavirus, as well as several officials involved in the placement of Uyghur Muslims into “re-education camps.”
Another bill — which was not filed by a Texan but has been cosponsored by Reps. Brian Babin (R-TX-36), Bill Flores (R-TX-17), and Crenshaw — would require “the President to develop and carry out a strategy to get China’s government to reimburse the U.S. government for funds made available to address COVID-19.”
The other articles in this series on approaches to US-China relations by members of the Texas delegation include:
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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.