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Can China be sued for this pandemic? | Alistair Vigier

Thursday, April 30, 2020 @ 11:53 AM | By Alistair Vigier

Alistair Vigier %>
Alistair Vigier
With the extra time I have had on my hands since COVID-19 struck, I have followed closely any lawsuits, accusations and political activities regarding the pandemic. I started following Chinese and U.S. politicians on Twitter to see what their positions are. On the U.S. side, it was clear that they blame the Chinese government directly for the spread of COVID-19. On the Chinese side, they have mostly shown videos about China sending masks to many countries in the world.

China responds harshly to any accusations

Instead of Chinese political figures ignoring the U.S. politicians’ accusations, they have directly responded with harsh words. For example, Hua Chunying, the director general of the Department of Information in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for China tweets many times a day. It is clear in her posts that China won’t back down from a political fight with the United States.

Further, many people have reported being personally blocked by Hua. It reminds me of high school, where the two most popular or “largest” kids would fight to run the school.

If China isn’t afraid of political fights, what might get to them?

Lawsuits have already been filed against China

In a previous article about COVID-19 responsibility, I suggested that there might be lawsuits in the future against China. Some lawyers messaged me on LinkedIn suggesting that I didn’t know what I was talking about. However, last week the state of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the government of China. The state sued due to what it claims was a negligent response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It also claims that there was significant suffering and economic loss due to the outbreak, which is undeniable.

Also, an attorney based in Florida filed a class action lawsuit against China. The lawsuit claims that the city of Wuhan and the People’s Republic of China did not make the appropriate efforts to contain the virus. Further, it claims that China was negligent in its reporting of the seriousness of the virus. And of course, the damages are for suffering, death and economic harm.

An Indiana Republican congressman said the Chinese government should be forced to cover the cost damages in the United States. Instead of having to make a cash payment, China should write off much of the United States’ debts. Without a doubt, the United States would have to file some applications with the United Nations before it could walk away from its debt to China. China will clearly not agree to cancel the loan.

Could lawsuit against Chinese government be successful?

While Canadian courts have no authority over the Chinese government, China does have significant investments in Canadian companies and projects. If a claim was successful in a Canadian court, the plaintiffs might be able to seize Chinese assets in Canada.

An example of assets that might be seized is Petro Kazakhstan, a Calgary-based oil company that has been very successful. Now mostly owned by the Chinese government, it focuses on oil exploration in Kazakhstan.

If someone in Canada filed a lawsuit, the State Immunity Act would likely apply. This Act means that unless certain exemptions apply, a Canadian entity cannot sue another country. The point of the Act is to improve relations between countries. Also, the Canadian government does not want to be sued by other foreign citizens. A world where everyone is filing lawsuits against governments would make international relations challenging.

There are two exemptions to the Act:

  1. If Canadians have suffered injuries due to a foreign government;
  2. If there are damages against Canadian citizens’ property in Canada.

It is possible that both exemptions occurred. However, as we saw with the CFO of Huawei criminal case, you can count on the Chinese government to hire high-powered lawyers. Also, the Chinese government would never settle with the plaintiffs. Any form of a settlement would imply some sort of admission of liability, at least in the eyes of the media. With China’s goal to rule the world, it must distance itself from any responsibility for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Therefore, whoever desires to sue China is in for a long and expensive fight.

Alistair Vigier is the CEO of ClearWay Law, a website that connects people with legal issues to affordable lawyers.

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