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The global pushback against China

Governments and individuals around the world want answers—and reparations—from China


Chinese President Xi Jinping Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The global pushback against China
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How did the coronavirus pandemic begin? Where did the virus originate? Did it jump from an animal to a human at a Wuhan seafood market? Or did it accidentally escape a nearby laboratory known to perform experiments on coronavirus-carrying bats?

Months into the outbreak, with more than 3.6 million infections that have upended almost every society around the world, the answers to these basic questions still remain murky. The reason is China’s unwillingness to allow investigations or inquiry into the virus’s origin, along with an initial cover-up of its existence.

Some countries around the world are fed up and demand answers: The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand have called for an impartial investigation into the origins of the virus to prevent another outbreak. Some are calling for reparations or suing China for coronavirus-related damages. Even countries with close ties to China are growing skeptical as they deal with the pandemic domestically.

China has decided to respond aggressively, pointing the blame at others—especially the United States. The Chinese government has also tried to regain goodwill by providing medical gear and testing kits, although several countries complain of faulty equipment.

The reverberations of the pandemic are causing countries around the world to rethink their relationship with China: In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell admitted Europe has been “a little naïve” in its view of China. The Communist country is an economic partner but also a “systemic rival that seeks to promote an alternative model of governance,” he said. Suspicions of China are also leading European countries to rethink their plans to use Huawei’s 5G technology.

The French government summoned the Chinese ambassador after the embassy claimed on its website that France had abandoned residents in nursing homes, leaving them to die. German and Polish governments, as well as the state of Wisconsin, complained Chinese diplomats are asking the governments to thank China for its aid and praise its efforts to fight the virus.

The German tabloid newspaper Bild published an article claiming China owed $162 billion in reparations for the outbreak. Others are also trying to get China to pay up for the pandemic: The states of Missouri and Mississippi, thousands of U.S. citizens, a group of Nigerian lawyers, and an Egyptian lawyer are all filing lawsuits against China.

It’s unlikely that any of these suits will end with China paying for its role in the pandemic, since it has sovereign immunity as a foreign government. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt named the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the defendant in its lawsuit, claiming “an appalling campaign of deceit, concealment, misfeasance, and inaction by Chinese authorities unleashed this pandemic.” U.S. courts have never ruled on whether the CCP is responsible for the Chinese government’s actions, yet it will unlikely do little more than embarrass China, according to The Washington Post.

The Nigerian lawyers hope to persuade the government to take state action against China at the International Court of Justice at the Hague, claiming damages of $200 billion for coronavirus-related deaths, economic hardships, and daily disruption. Yet because the court requires states’ consent to participate, China can reject the court’s decision like it did with the United Nations’ tribunal on its South China Sea dispute with the Philippines.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw introduced legislation that would create an exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to allow Americans to sue the Chinese government. Other House Republicans are looking into legislation that would require the Government Accountability Office to calculate what China owes the United States in pandemic-related costs.

Even China’s close ties to Africa are fraying after videos of discrimination toward African migrants in Guangzhou went viral on social media, causing leaders of Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and the African Union to meet with Chinese ambassadors about racism toward their citizens. Landlords evicted African migrants, restaurants banned them from entering, and police forced them to undergo COVID-19 testing and mandatory quarantines over fears that foreigners would cause a second wave of infections.

Especially with the West, China has responded with an aggressive “Wolf Warrior” approach, the term based on two nationalistic blockbuster films in China. The sequel’s tagline: “Anyone who offends China will be killed no matter how far the target is.”

In response to Australia’s call for an investigation, editor of the state-run Global Times compared Australia to “chewing gum stuck to the sole of China’s shoes.” Ambassador Cheng Jingye told The Australian Financial Review Chinese citizens may decide to boycott Australian goods: “Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?” One-third of Australia’s exports go to China.

Australia has said it would not give in to “economic coercion.”

Chinese media has also attacked U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he continues to question whether the coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. State media has called him the “enemy of humanity,” and “evil” for “wantonly spawning poison and spreading lies.” Chinese media claim he is trying to shift the blame to China to deflect from the United States’ delayed response to the virus.

China is also taking advantage of the U.S.’s retreat from leadership within the international community. After President Donald Trump announced the United States would pause funding for the World Health Organization, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that as the United States pulls back, China is stepping in to take its place: “Every inch that the U.S. withdraws from the wider world, especially at this level, is space that will be occupied by others—and that tends to be those who don’t share our values of liberal democracy.”


June Cheng

June is a reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and covers East Asia, including China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

@JuneCheng_World

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