Beijing Lashes Out as Congress Seeks to Empower Trump to Sanction China Over Pandemic

May 14, 2020 Updated: May 14, 2020

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced a measure that would give President Donald Trump the power to impose sanctions on China if Beijing fails to cooperate with a full investigation into what led to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Chinese Communist regime’s coverup of the coronavirus outbreak cost hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide and caused unfathomable harm to the global economy, and they must be held accountable,” Collins said in a May 13 statement from his office.

Collins’ proposal, named the COVID-19 Accountability Act, is a companion measure to one introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on May 12. The House bill was co-sponsored by at least 23 lawmakers, including Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), and Mark Walker (R-N.C.).

Following the introduction of the legislation, Beijing warned of retaliation measures against the United States.

The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus and which causes the disease COVID-19, originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, and has since spread around the globe. In the United States, more 1.4 million people have been infected, and 85,000 people have died from COVID-19.

Beijing’s early coverup is well-documented. In late December, Chinese authorities silenced eight doctors who took to Chinese social media to warn people about a new form of pneumonia spreading in Wuhan.

The following month, a provincial health commission official in Hubei directed a genomics company to halt testing virus samples and to destroy all existing samples.

Proposals

If passed, the measure would require the president to certify Congress within 60 days that China had “provided a full and complete accounting to any COVID-19 investigation led by the United States, its allies, or United Nations affiliates, such as the World Health Organization.”

The president would also have to verify that China has closed all wet markets. Chinese authorities initially suspected that the virus originated from a fresh food market in Wuhan, while studies on Wuhan’s initial patients have called that theory into question.

If Beijing fails to cooperate, the president would be authorized to impose sanctions on Chinese officials, including asset freezes, travel bans, and visa revocations, according to the proposal. Moreover, the president would be able to restrict U.S. financial institutes from offering loans to Chinese firms and prohibit Chinese firms from being listed on U.S. stock exchanges.

“By giving the President the authority to impose a wide range of sanctions on Chinese officials, the COVID-19 Accountability Act will guarantee China is held fully accountable for the worldwide devastation they’ve caused and will ensure the American people get the answers they deserve,” Collins said.

The proposal also calls on the secretary of state to come up with a strategy to help Taiwan become an observer at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Beijing has blocked Taiwan from being a WHO member because it considers the self-ruled island its territory.

The Senate recently passed a bill supporting Taiwan’s participation in the WHO, as the island has earned international plaudits for its success in containing the virus—440 confirmed cases and seven deaths as of May 14, and no new local infection cases in the last 32 days.

Response

Beijing lashed out following news of the Senate sanctions bill and hinted at possible retaliation.

Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, accused the senators during a daily briefing on May 13 of showing “no respect for facts,” and calling their actions “highly immoral.”

China’s hawkish state-run newspaper Global Times, in an article published May 14 called Graham out by name and said that Beijing was preparing “punitive measures” against U.S. lawmakers who have “cooked up anti-Chinese bills,” as well as the state of Missouri and other U.S. individuals and entities, citing unnamed sources.

The state attorneys general in Missouri and Mississippi have filed lawsuits against Beijing over its coverup of the virus, while several U.S. law firms have begun class-action lawsuits. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Italy and Nigeria.

In another May 14 article, the Global Times said Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and two other U.S. lawmakers will be placed on China’s sanctions list.

The Global Times also slammed Trump, accusing the president of “shifting blame” with the U.S. lawsuits, and trying to “find a solution” for his reelection bid in November.

Joshua Wong, the iconic Hong Kong pro-democracy activist who led the 2014 Umbrella Movement, said in a tweet that he welcomed Graham’s legislative proposal.

#Coronavirus has become a matter of life and death in every corner of the world. When China claims itself as a “responsible world power,” #CCP should shoulder its responsibility and be completely transparent, instead of merely taking benefits and burying truths,” Wong wrote.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer