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Starting cases against China on COVID-19 in U.S. courts is a violation of international law
By Liu Jingdong  ·  2020-06-30  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

While people are struggling to cope with the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, some U.S. groups and individuals are claiming compensation from the Chinese Government and organizations in U.S. courts. Their cases have no legal or factual basis and are a typical example of political manipulation. If such acts are allowed to proceed unchecked, the world order and rule of law globally would be damaged.

State immunity is a principle of international law. According to the international principle of Sovereign Immunity of State, the state, government and property of a country are not subject to the jurisdiction and enforcement of the courts of another country. China, as a sovereign country, is immune from U.S. domestic court proceedings, which is enshrined in international law.

Despite some commercial exceptions, this principle is the cornerstone of modern international relations. If the domestic courts of any country accept lawsuits against foreign sovereign states, the national dignity of a sovereign state and the international order based on equality would be undermined.

In a judgment in 1897, the U.S. Supreme Court itself had stated that "Every sovereign state is bound to respect the independence of every other sovereign state, and the courts of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another, done within its own territory."

However, several members of the U.S. Congress have proposed a bill to amend the act. The proposed act will still be a U.S. domestic law and not legally binding on any other countries.

The premise for investigating the state responsibility of a sovereign state is that it has failed to meet its international obligations or violated international law.

According to the International Health Regulations, member nations are obliged to notify the World Health Organization (WHO) of public health emergencies that may constitute international concern and share information. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Chinese Government has kept WHO informed and shared information with other countries, including the U.S., in an open and timely manner.

It has taken strict prevention and control measures and also helped other countries fight the pandemic. WHO said in acknowledgement: "In many ways, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response." The Chinese Government, instead of violating any international law, has faithfully fulfilled its obligations.

Moreover, the peaceful settlement of international disputes is another basic principle of modern international law. Disputes between countries can be resolved through negotiation, mediation and other approaches while respecting national sovereignty, rather than be decided by a country's domestic courts.

The litigation by the groups and individuals in the U.S. actually violates international law. The U.S. is obliged under international law to urge these courts to dismiss such malicious prosecution. If it does not take this practical measure, it would constitute an internationally wrongful act. If the malpractice causes huge losses to China, the Chinese Government would have the right to claim compensation against the U.S. on the basis of international law.

International law is the basis for the survival of the international community. If some countries are allowed to trample on it, the world would inevitably regress to an era when the law of the jungle prevailed, without peace and development.

The author is a senior researcher with the Institute of International Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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