The coronavirus started in the Wuhan from December 2019 to January 2020, and the Chinese authorities, made evidently intentional misrepresentations to its people about the outbreak. It provided false assurances to its population. If that was not enough, they failed to to share information on purpose with the World Health Organization (WHO) on the novel coronavirus. And that was not the first time they did this. China tried to cover up the SARS epidemic 18 years ago.
China has a duty to rapidly gather information about and contribute to a common understanding of what may constitute a public health emergency with potential international implications. It’s member of the World Health Assembly, which signed the legally binding 2005 International Health Regulations.
- Article 6 of the International Health Regulations requires states to provide expedited, timely, accurate, and sufficiently detailed information to WHO about the potential public health emergencies identified in the second annex in order to galvanize efforts to prevent pandemics.
- States are required to provide timely and transparent information as requested within 24 hours, and to participate in collaborative assessments of the risks presented. The Washington Post concluded in a story on Feb. 26 that China “was not sending details that WHO officials.
Now there are two possibilities to consider:
- China did not intentionally create a global pandemic, but its malfeasance is certainly the cause of it.
- China did intentionally create a global pandemic, and including its malfeasance made it worse.
To proof point 2, that China intentionally created the global pandemic is hard to do, probably even almost impossible. Maybe it’s true, maybe not.
But point 1, China’s malfeasance is certainly the cause of the pandemic is not hard to proof and visible for everyone in the world.
Under Article 31 of the Articles of State Responsibility, states are required to make full reparations for the injury caused by their internationally wrongful acts. Injuries include damages, whether material or moral. Injured states are entitled to full reparation “in the form of restitution in kind, compensation, satisfaction and assurances and guarantees of non-repetition” (Article 34).
No one expects that China will fulfill its obligations. It’ll simply ignore the whole thing and will probably try to blame everything to anyone except themselves.
But the choice of countermeasures that injured states may select is wide open, with only minimal limitations. They may suspend existing legal obligations or deliberately violate other legal duties owed to China. Examples can be removal of China from leadership positions and memberships at the UN, kick them out of the World Trade Organization, suspend air travel to China, broadcast Western media in China, undermine China’s infamous internet firewall, violate China’s sovereignty and internal affairs, refusing any trade with China, and the list is very long. Hopefully President Trump is reading this.