The state of Missouri in America has become the first state to sue the Chinese government for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit seeks to hold the Chinese government officially responsible for “deceit, concealment and inaction”.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court by the state’s top lawyer, alleges Chinese officials are “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians”.
It added that 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.
The lawsuit also accuses the Chinese government of making the pandemic worse by “hoarding” masks and other personal protective equipment.
U.S. President Donald Trump initially lavished praise on China and his counterpart Xi Jinping for the official response to the outbreak, which has since spread worldwide to infect more than 2.5 million people.
But he and other senior U.S. officials have also referred to it as the “Chinese virus” and in recent days have ramped up their rhetoric.
China is already facing similar lawsuits filed in U.S. courts on behalf of U.S. business owners. International law experts believe that efforts in U.S. courts to hold China liable for the virus would probably fail.
A professor of international law at the University of Chicago, Tom Ginsburg, said a legal doctrine called sovereign immunity offers foreign governments broad protection from being sued in U.S. courts.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s response was not under the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, adding that it had provided updates on the outbreak to the United States since Jan. 3.
“Such abuse of litigation is not conducive to the epidemic response at home in the United States and also runs counter to international cooperation,” Geng told a daily briefing on Wednesday, speaking about Missouri’s move.
“What the United States should do is refute and reject such abuse of litigation.”
Trump initially downplayed the seriousness of the virus, which has killed more than 43,000 people in the United States, out of nearly 800,000 infections, by Tuesday.