Stefanik says bring China to justice for COVID-19

Congresswoman: U.S. politicians who downplayed virus not the same

Rep. Elise Stefanik (Official congressional photo)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik has joined a slew of Republican members of Congress in asking the U.S. to bring China to the International Court of Justice to answer for its handling of the coronavirus, specifically for alleged withholding and giving inaccurate information to the World Health Organization.

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said though China’s actions of lying and downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus are criminal, U.S. politicians who lied and downplayed the seriousness of the virus are not equally criminal.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the 23 Congress members asked the two to bring a trial to the court. Pompeo and Barr, who have both spoken out against China, have not said whether they will bring a case or not yet.

“The Communist Party of China knowingly withheld critical information on the threat of COVID-19, and thousands of people have died because of their attempt to cover-up the virus,” Stefanik wrote in a press release. “China must be held accountable for the devastating loss of life they have caused by lying and intentionally suppressing critical facts needed to combat COVID-19 early on in this pandemic.”

China’s cover-up

Citing International Health Regulations law, the Congress members’ letter says China was derelict in its duties to the WHO, making “intentional false claims” and silencing Chinese doctors and journalists who were trying to warn the world about the threat of COVID-19 though suppression and imprisonment.

The letter also cites a WHO tweet from Jan. 14 which, using information from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, said investigations by Chinese authorities “found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus.” This turned out to be false.

It also alleges under-reporting of numbers of infected and deceased patients by China. It cites a model from the University of Southampton that found if China had acted three weeks earlier, the number of people affected by the virus would have been cut 95%.

Health officials in the Chinese city of Wuhan were warned about the coronavirus as early as Dec. 27, but its government has been criticized for not issuing public warnings soon enough. Two doctors in Wuhan, Ai Fen and Li Wenliang, took to the social media app WeChat on Dec. 30 to warn the public about the new virus, but were both reprimanded for “spreading rumors.” After Li died from COVID-19 on Feb. 7, public outrage led the Chinese Communist party to conduct a report exonerating him.

Previously, Stefanik introduced a resolution calling for an international investigation into a cover-up of the early spread of the coronavirus pandemic and demanded China make payments to affected countries.

U.S. officials also lied, downplayed virus

Asked about what makes China’s actions worse or more illegal than what many in the U.S. government have done to lie, misrepresent or downplay the severity of the coronavirus, Stefanik said the question was “irresponsible.”

“To equate U.S. officials with the Chinese Communist government is just irresponsible and inaccurate. To make that statement with no basis is just not accurate,” Stefanik said. “It’s a megawatt moment that is shining a light on China’s manipulation and China’s inability to be truthful to the international community.”

She said there is an outcry from the international community over Chinese propaganda being used by the WHO, and she said China has not been a “legitimate international partner” because it has not been transparent about the virus.

She said other countries want to hold China accountable, and that even states such as Missouri are pursuing cases or seeking reparations from the Chinese government.

Stefanik did not talk about members of the American government who have downplayed, lied and covered up the seriousness of the virus, too.

On Feb. 25, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the government had “contained the virus.”

“I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow said.

Since then, tens of thousands of Americans have died from the virus.

In early March, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., asked reporters if they wanted to shake hands, and U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-CA, said if someone is healthy, “It’s a great time to just go out and go to a local restaurant.” He suggested taking the whole family.

In late March, Navy leaders fired aircraft carrier commander Capt. Brett Crozier for copying too many people on a memo requesting help and protection for the sailors on his ship, which was facing a coronavirus outbreak. The memo was leaked to the media, and Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” and said he is “too naive or too stupid.” Modly has since resigned.

The Navy is now recommending Crozier be reinstated after 856 crew members aboard the ship tested positive for the virus, including Crozier. The virus has killed at least one sailor on that ship.

President Donald Trump supported the firing at the time.

“He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter,” he said of Crozier. “I thought it was terrible what he did.”

Stefanik, who is a co-chair of the New York Trump reelection team, has not vocally disagreed with how the president has handled this virus, except for her belief that the federal government should be responsible for testing, which Trump has disagreed with.

Trump timeline

On Jan. 22, Trump was asked if he was concerned about the virus spreading to the U.S.

“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control,” Trump said. “It’s going to be just fine.”

For around a month, this was his position on the virus, that it was going away.

He even praised China for its “transparency” in a Jan. 24 tweet.

“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” Trump wrote. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

A recent Politico report said Trump also is in a significant amount of debt to the Bank of China, the result of a $211 million loan taken out by Trump and a realty company with a 30%-70% ownership, respectively, of the Avenue of the Americas skyscraper, which is due by November 2022.

At a Feb. 10 campaign rally in New Hampshire, Trump said the virus was going to disappear and again praised China’s handling of the virus.

“Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true,” Trump said.

As the number of cases in the country rose by the week, Trump’s message stayed the same.

“In our country, we only have, basically, 12 cases, and most of those people are recovering and some cases fully recovered. So it’s actually less,” he told Geraldo Rivera on Feb. 13.

On Feb. 26 he said: “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

That 15 people did not go down to zero, as Trump has said, and it continued to rise exponentially.

On March 10 he told Republican senators the virus was “unexpected” and told them “we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

The next day the WHO assessed that COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic.

On March 17 Trump told reporters, “This is a pandemic. … I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

A week later, on March 24, he mused about filling churches in time for Easter.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump told the press about the coronavirus outbreak on March 13.

Unclear future for trial

The International Court of Justice did not respond to the Enterprise in time for this article, and it is unclear what powers the court has to punish China, if it is found accountable for COVID-19. Stefanik also did not respond in time for this article to say what consequences she would like to see levied against the country.

Arbitration in an ICJ trial can only continue if China consents. But there are more punishments U.S. and international governments can levy against China for not showing up to court.

The letter says that if China refuses to submit to a trial, other nations could suspend their obligations to China to “fulfill its responsibility for the calamitous damages inflicted on the world.”

This includes removing China from international organizations, reversing its entry into the World Trade Organization, suspending air travel to China or suspending broadcasting Western and Taiwanese media into China.


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