WASHINGTON – Missouri became the first state to sue the Chinese government, citing “an appalling campaign of deceit” related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The civil lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court by GOP state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, claiming Chinese officials are “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians.”
“The Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease,” said Schmitt who is seeking damages.“They must be held accountable for their actions.”
Schmitt said Chinese officials and others, including laboratories and China’s Communist Party, were all “engaged in misrepresentations, concealment, and retaliation to conceal the gravity and seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak from the rest of the world.”
The number of Missouri deaths statewide rose Tuesday to 215, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of cases rose to 5,963.
“In Missouri, the impact of the virus is very real – thousands have been infected and many have died, families have been separated from dying loved ones, small businesses are shuttering their doors, and those living paycheck to paycheck are struggling to put food on their table,” Schmitt said.
The lawsuit additionally accuses the Chinese government of making the COVID-19 pandemic worse by “hoarding” personal protective equipment, like masks.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who was the sole witness called by Republicans before the Judiciary Committee in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, explained that “Such lawsuits are exceptionally difficult,” as China is protected by sovereign immunity.
“The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 extends blanket immunity to countries from most lawsuits in the United States,” he wrote. “The exceptions are rather narrow and rarely accepted by American courts, which read this statute as clearly conveying the intent to discourage such lawsuits.”
Besides seeking damages, the lawsuit seeks to hold the Chinese government officially accountable for “An appalling campaign of deceit, concealment, misfeasance, and inaction by Chinese authorities unleashed this pandemic.”
“During the critical weeks of the initial outbreak, Chinese authorities deceived the public, suppressed crucial information, arrested whistleblowers, denied human-to-human transmission in the face of mounting evidence, destroyed critical medical research, permitted millions of people to be exposed to the virus, and even hoarded personal protective equipment – thus causing a global pandemic that was unnecessary and preventable,” the suit said.
Missouri’s motion comes after nearly two dozen GOP lawmakers asked the Trump administration to move against China in the International Court of Justice on Monday. They say China violated the 2005 International Health Regulations by suppressing critical information about the outbreak, and disease.
Contributing: Associated Press