By Massimo Introvigne *
In a recent article in Bitter Winter, I discussed the comments of US lawyer James Kraska on possible lawsuits against China, asking him to pay the immense damage caused by the spread of COVID-19, which was caused or at least was made worse by Chinese carelessness and coverings.
I agreed with the professor that China has legal responsibility, but I disagreed with it when identifying the International Court of Justice as the right or possible place to seek damages claims. I have better hopes in US civil courts and the creativity of American lawyers.
It has already happened. The Chinese national government and Hebei provincial authorities have sued the South Florida District Court for damages caused to US citizens who did not test positive for COVID-19 but claim to have suffered economic loss because of it.
The lawsuit is pending against the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the National Health Commission, the Ministry of Emergency Management and the governments of Hubei and Wuhan provinces.
Chinese researchers Zheng Sophia Tang (currently at the University of Newcastle) and Zhengxin Huo came to the defense. They argued that US courts should not seek jurisdiction against a foreign sovereign state such as China – though US law allows them to do so under certain circumstances.
In fact, the Foreign Foreign Assistance Implementation Act (FSIA) of 1976 states that foreign states can be sued “for personal injury or death, or damage or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the torture or inaction of that foreign State or any official or employee of that foreign State while operating in the field of his work or employment. ”
Under US law, China may be liable for damages, but the burden of proof is heavy on the plaintiffs. My impression is that these are just preliminary moves. We haven’t seen the top law firms, the millionaires coming onto the scene yet. And, for what it’s worth, I suggested that suing the CCP (People’s Republic of China) as a party may be easier than suing China as a sovereign state.
But there has been no shortage of Chinese backlash against US government lawsuits, based on the officially promoted Chinese government’s theory that the virus originated in the United States and came to China through US soldiers attending the Wuhan Military Games. in October 2019.
Theoretically, local courts in China should seek the guidance of the Supreme People’s Court, which must stop cases since (unlike US law), Chinese laws state that sovereign foreign states enjoy absolute immunity from prosecution.
But it is clear that these cases are merely revenge and political propaganda. No one can seriously believe that the US exported the virus to China, and the People’s Republic of China propaganda machine seems to have already passed on the equally absurd theory that the virus originated in Italy.
American civil lawsuits, on the other hand, are serious. I personally hold out hope for American lawyers and pray daily, hoping they will be inspired to unleash their heaviest legal artillery against China
* Massimo Introvigne is an Italian sociology of religions. He is the founder and director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and author of 70 books and over 100 articles on the sociology of religion