Sunday, April 12, 2020

How to Make China Pay

Xinhua via Reuters
The WHO sells out to China, but we don’t have to.
One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the number of its people who have contracted and died from the coronavirus epidemic. Such deceit follows Beijing’s recklessness in suppressing news of the origins, rapid spread, and lethality of COVID-19 in December and January. Chinese officials punished doctors who tried to warn of the outbreak in Wuhan, slowed identification and research on the virus, and allowed thousands to leave the region for the rest of the world.
If China were an individual, a company, or a law-abiding nation, it would be required to provide compensation for the harm it has inflicted globally. The United States alone may well suffer 200,000 or more deaths, billions in health-care costs, trillions in lost economic activity, and trillions more in new government spending. China’s failures render it legally liable under international law, but the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the crisis of ineffectiveness and corruption of international institutions. Instead of focusing on international law, the U.S. should thus protect its national interests by opting for the self-help mechanism.
International institutions provide no meaningful way to force China to remedy the harm it has caused. The United Nations Security Council, allegedly the supreme lawmaking and executive body in international law, cannot hold China to account because China and Russia exercise their permanent right to veto any Security Council resolution. China has rendered the U.N. impotent, even though U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has declared the COVID-19 pandemic the world’s most challenging crisis since World War II, as it has become a threat to international peace and security by shutting down swaths of the global economy and killing thousands, if not millions.
The U.S. and its allies also could try to sue China before an international tribunal, such as the International Court of Justice, although countries have never been sued for their violation of infectious-disease treaties. But even if a court were to judge China responsible for the injury caused by its handling of COVID-19, China would just ignore any decision. When the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea violated international law, Beijing simply ignored the ruling. A Chinese official declared that the judgment was “nothing more than a piece of paper.” We should expect nothing different from China in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has only a weak, non-binding dispute-resolution mechanism, but China’s failure to promptly report the coronavirus outbreak to the organization violated the International Health Regulations, which require states to notify the WHO of potential public-health emergencies “of international concern.”
Read the rest from John Yoo & Ivana Stradner HERE.

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