(File photo: CHINA DAILY)
Editor's Note: The United States administration is blaming China for the novel coronavirus outbreak, in order to cover up its failure to control the spread of the virus in the country and limit the death toll－which now is the highest in the world. Probably frustrated by their humungous failure, some US states and private organizations have filed lawsuits against China. But those lawsuits are flawed, both factually and legally. Following are the views of five Chinese experts on the issue, which were first published in People's Daily, Guangming Daily and Legal Daily:
No law to pin blame on China for outbreak
Since March, some lawmakers, government officials, media outlets, think tanks and NGOs in the US have been claiming that China is "responsible" for the coronavirus outbreak, and some US states and private organizations have filed lawsuits against the Chinese government seeking huge compensation for the human and economic losses they have suffered.
The filing of these lawsuits in US courts is not only a gross abuse of domestic laws but also an ugly manifestation of the US' pursuit of power politics and hegemonism. The lawsuits are not only untenable in international law but also against the world order established after the end of World War II with the United Nations at its core, and a violation of China's sovereignty.
The lawsuits are based on the so-called China-is-responsible theory. The "plaintiffs" presume that the novel coronavirus originated in China, and the Chinese government concealed the information about the outbreak, thereby allowing it to spread across the world. Therefore, they argue, China should bear responsibility for the global damage the virus has caused. This accusation has no basis in fact or law.
Although China was the first to report the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, neither the World Health Organization nor the international scientific community has traced the origin of novel coronavirus to Wuhan. Tracing the origin of the virus should be left to scientists, instead of being politicized.
More important, there is no international law which stipulates that a country where a virus originates needs to bear responsibility for any outbreaks in other countries, and thus there is no so-called state responsibility for the country that first reported the outbreak. So China does not assume any state responsibility for the pandemic under international law, especially because the origin of the virus has not been scientifically traced.
AIDS was first reported in the US in the 1980s and then the human immunodeficiency virus spread around the world, but the international community has never demanded that the US bear responsibility for spreading the virus and pay compensation to all the countries affected by HIV/AIDS.
As an early victim of the COVID-19 outbreak, China is keenly aware of the damage caused by the pandemic. Humankind is a community with a shared future, and the novel coronavirus is a common enemy of humankind. And only by working together and making concerted efforts can all the countries effectively contain the virus.
Huang Jin, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law and president of the Chinese Society of International Law
A ploy to divert public attention from US failure
Human history, in part, is a history of human struggle against pestilence. The development of different countries and regions, including the rise and fall of great powers, the beginning, progress and end of wars and armed conflicts, and the development and changes in religions and cultures, have been often directly influenced by plagues. People can draw lessons and inspiration from history to contain epidemics; they can even predict the future by studying history.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a mirror that reflects the cognitive and specious strengths and weaknesses of different countries and regions, and shows us the direction in which we should make efforts to contain epidemics.
The fight against the novel coronavirus should be based on scientific methods, given that the virus does not discriminate against any ideology, social system, religion or ethnicity. Quarantine, including home quarantine, and "social distancing" are essential for preventing and controlling the spread of the virus, which China strictly followed and many other countries did not.
Besides, in less than a month, China identified the novel coronavirus as a new virus, notified the World Health Organization and other countries about it, and completed its genome sequencing. This is rare in world history.
Yet it is unscientific to conclude without any evidence that the virus originated in a particular place. Also, China was the country to sound the alarm against the imminent epidemic－and has led the way in exploring epidemic risks and contributing to global research on the virus.
In the early stage of the epidemic, when the number of infections was not very high, some local government officials in China wanted some more time to watch the situation and then take strict measures against the outbreak, but the central government, without delay, dispatched an expert team to Wuhan to assess the situation and imposed a lockdown on Wuhan, a city with 11 million people, followed by a lockdown on its parent province of Hubei a few days later.
Subsequently, the central government took stringent measures across the country to prevent the spread of the virus, and thus made a remarkable contribution to the global fight against the pandemic.
But despite scientific tracing of the virus's origin not making due progress, some US politicians and legal activists have hastily filed lawsuits claiming compensation from China for the pandemic, which is a blatant violation of the sovereign immunity of other states that the US itself recognizes, in order to divert the American public's attention from the failure of the US administration to contain the virus.
Liu Huawen, director of the Institute of International Law, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Outrageous misuse of American laws
The lawsuits filed in US courts seeking compensation from the Chinese government, government agencies or individuals who work for the government for the COVID-19 pandemic are nothing but a gross misuse of US domestic laws based on baseless accusations.
In accordance with the principle of sovereign immunity, China and its government are not subject to the jurisdiction of a court in another country and thus cannot be called to defend themselves in any legal proceedings. The principle of sovereign state immunity is not only a basic principle of international law but also a legal norm widely accepted by the judiciaries of all countries. The US is a country with comprehensive domestic legislation on sovereign immunity of states, and the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act it enacted in 1976 gives state immunity to sovereign states and governments from the jurisdiction of US courts.
From the point of view of cause of action, these litigations are nothing but an abuse of law to level false accusations against a foreign entity. Any litigation must have a legitimate ground, but the lawsuits filed in the US lack any legitimate grounds. Take the case filed by the Mississippi state as an example. The case against China, according to media reports, is based on claims such as the novel coronavirus originated in China, the defendant allowed the virus to spread, the defendant concealed the spread of the virus, the defendant's act caused damage to the "plaintiff", and the defendant stockpiled personal protective equipment for illegal gain. All these charges and causes of action are groundless, and untenable in law.
As for the origin of the novel coronavirus, the global consensus is that tracing the origin of the virus is a scientific issue that should be left to scientists to do. And before scientists trace the exact origin of the virus, any claim about its origin would be unscientific, rather fictive, and therefore cannot be used to seek compensation. The claim that China failed to notify the WHO in time and allowed the virus to spread, as well as other accusations against China are so devoid of facts that they don't even deserve rebuttal.
The coronavirus outbreak is the worst pandemic in a century, and the entire international community needs to join hands to effectively contain it. So, unscrupulous politicians in the US and other countries should refrain from filing such lawsuits against China in local courts, and that too without any evidence. These politicians are behind the lawsuits, which they assume will absolve them of their responsibilities, because they believe such moves will help them achieve their political goals, and divert public attention from their failure to contain the virus in their countries.
Xu Guojian, vice-president of China Society of Private International Law
US politicians' move aimed at achieving nefarious goals
The compensation claims are a planned political conspiracy by US politicians against China. In this US presidential election year, the politicians' move is aimed at achieving their domestic political goals. They are trying to pin the blame on China for the pandemic, so as to curb China's influence in the global arena and thus impeding its economic and political development.
But the law in every country is designed to protect only legitimate claims, and prohibits false accusations. So anyone trying to falsely accuse others can be held accountable for undermining justice, poisoning the social atmosphere and wasting judicial resources.
In the US, although the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act allows US victims to seek damages from a foreign state for personal injury, death, or property damage or loss in the US, it does not support any claim based on exercise and performance or nonexercise and non-performance of discretion, whether or not such discretion has been abused, nor does it support any claim arising from false accusation, abuse of procedure, libel, slander, distortion, deception or interference with contractual rights.
Besides, international law requires states to establish and exercise jurisdiction on the basis of the principle of territoriality and personal ownership, in order to minimize jurisdictional conflicts and to promote stability and harmony in international relations.
According to international law, sovereign states are free from the jurisdiction of other states, and unless a state waives immunity from jurisdiction, a court of another state cannot hear a case in which the state or the government of that state is the defendant or against the state property of that state; and unless the state expressly waives immunity from enforcement, the courts of other states cannot impose judicial enforcement measures against the state, its government or its property. Based on such principles, the US government and courts have an obligation to ensure that China's state immunity is not violated.
Huang Huikang, a member of the International Law Commission of the United Nations and distinguished professor at the Institute of International Law, Wuhan University
Spread of virus cannot be classified as an act of a state
Some "plaintiffs" have filed lawsuits in some countries against China seeking compensation for the novel coronavirus outbreak. But, judging by media reports, it is clear that these lawsuits are not based on facts or law and will therefore not get the support of the courts. The "plaintiffs" may even be held accountable for the adverse consequences of the lawsuits or face public criticisms.
In accordance with the principle of sovereign immunity under international law, a sovereign state is generally not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of another sovereign state. The Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, passed by the US Congress on Oct 21, 1976, also provides that a foreign country shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of US and its states' courts. According to the principle of sovereign state immunity, under the current legal framework, the courts of the US have no civil jurisdiction to sue other governments for claims related to the prevention and control of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Of course, there are exceptions to the principle of sovereign state immunity－commercial acts of a state directly harming US interests and improper acts by another state within the US. In these two cases, the government of another state can be sued in the courts of the US. But the lawsuits filed against China are all based on the argument that the Wuhan Institute of Virology and a seafood market in Wuhan are commercial venues that are in fact controlled by the Chinese government. Such an argument is inconsistent with the facts and will not be upheld by the courts.
Also, under the US Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, economic losses and the business activities that caused these losses should have occurred within the US for the two exceptions to apply, but all the lawsuits are against something the "plaintiffs" claim happened in China.
In international law, the acts attributable to the state include only the acts of state organs and the acts of institutions or individuals authorized to exercise government power. The acts of other subjects cannot be attributed to the state.
And since the mainstream scientific community around the world is of the opinion that viruses originate in nature and there is no scientific evidence to prove that the novel coronavirus came from a laboratory, the spread of the virus among people cannot be classified as an act of a state.
Wang Zhengzhi, director of the Globe-Law Law Firm
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.