Chinese State Media Predicts Retaliation Against GOP Lawmakers Who Sued Beijing Over Coronavirus

A Chinese state-backed newspaper has called for sanctions on U.S. lawmakers and entities that have filed lawsuits against Beijing. The lawsuits blame the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for the coronavirus pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and collapsed the global economy.

A Global Times article published Thursday said Beijing is "extremely dissatisfied" with what is said is the "abuse of litigation" by some U.S. lawmakers, who are seeking damages from China over the COVID-19 pandemic. At least six lawsuits have now been filed against China in the U.S.

China COVID Lawsuits
Chinese paramilitary police wear protective masks as they guard the entrance to the Forbidden City as it re-opened to limited visitors, on May 2, 2020 in Beijing, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty

Global Times is owned by the People's Daily newspaper, which is the official publication of the CCP. It is often used to express the more nationalistic and combative sentiment from within the CCP, and has been at the forefront of Beijing's coronavirus PR strategy—whether defending against international criticism, maligning the performance of President Donald Trump's administration, or spreading disinformation about the crisis.

Thursday's article claimed sources "close to the matter" told the newspaper Beijing is "mulling" counter-action against American lawmakers. The newspaper did not provide any clear evidence or official confirmation of such plans. Newsweek has contacted the Chinese embassy in Washington to request comment on Global Times' assertions.

Global Times named several politicians who it said should be in line for retaliation. Eric Schmitt, the attorney general of Missouri, was the first lawmaker to file a lawsuit against China seeking damages to compensate Missourians. He was followed by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who filed a similar lawsuit.

But Global Times' rancor did not stop with state officials. The newspaper also named multiple GOP senators and congresspeople who have supported bills designed to hold Beijing to account over what critics allege is a catastrophic failure of governance, and even an intentional effort to mislead the international community about the severity of and threat posed by the pandemic.

The newspaper also named Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who announced the Justice for Victims of COVID-19 Act, plus Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who introduced a bill that would enable Americans to sue China for damages.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, Texas Rep. Lance Gooden, New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, and Indiana Rep. Jim Banks also made Global Times' list of those engaging in the coronavirus "blame game."

"China won't just strike back symbolically, but will impose countermeasures that will make them feel painful," Global Times said, citing unnamed analysts. The newspaper also cited anonymous sources who predicted "severe consequences" for those engaging in the "political farce." Any Chinese retaliation "will also impact the upcoming November elections," Global Times predicted.

Specifically, Global Times said Beijing might target the states of those lawmakers who have taken action against China. By imposing limits on trade and investments in and from these states, Global Times claimed that the CCP could undermine GOP support and impact coming elections.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said new legislation that would give U.S. executive authorities the power to sanction China over coronavirus "shows no respect for facts."

He added, "By pushing for investigations based on the presumption of guilt, it is meant to shirk responsibility for the U.S. fumbling response to China. This is highly immoral. We are firmly opposed to it."

Beijing has been desperately trying to dodge blame for the coronavirus pandemic, which was first identified in the central city of Wuhan in December. China has been accused of trying to conceal the initial outbreak, including by silencing whistleblower doctors in Wuhan.

Beijing is also suspected of concealing its true number of infections and deaths, failing to properly notify the World Health Organization of the risk of a pandemic, and misrepresenting the threat of the virus while hoarding medical supplies to fight it.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both placed the blame squarely at China's door, and even hinted at repercussions for the CCP. Both have also expressed confidence in an as-yet unproven theory that the COVID-19 virus escaped from a research lab in Wuhan, rather than originating in a wildlife market in the city. So far, most experts and U.S. allies have rejected the theory.

China has embarked on a global PR campaign to exonerate itself from blame, sending medical supplies and doctors to help worse affected nations—so-called "mask diplomacy"—although millions of pieces of equipment have been rejected as faulty.

Beijing has repeatedly called for global solidarity in fighting the virus, though is accused of running a parallel disinformation campaign to malign Western nations and laud its own success in suppressing its national outbreak. Chinese officials have denied such charges, arguing instead that Beijing is the true victim of propaganda efforts.

But China is also resisting calls from Western leaders to allow an independent international probe into the origins and course of the pandemic. Earlier this month, China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said Beijing would not prioritize such a probe until "final victory" was won, and even then only under the "right atmosphere."