Missouri’s decision to sue China is misspent time, energy and — taxpayer — money. And it could expose us to a dangerous precedent.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed the lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that “Chinese authorities deceived the public, suppressed crucial information, arrested whistleblowers, denied human-to-human transmission in the face of mounting evidence, destroyed critical medical research, permitted millions of people to be exposed to the virus and even hoarded personal protective equipment, thus causing a global pandemic that was unnecessary and preventable.”
All of which may be true. Reports like that began surfacing as the pandemic erupted around Wuhan, and China’s dismissal of the lawsuit as “very absurd” doesn’t carry much weight either.
Still, the odds of anyone in Missouri seeing even a nickel make the whole exercise look political and pointless. We’d prefer the attorney general keep focused on the hundreds of complaints of price gouging that have been reported in the past few weeks and on the dangers of scammers targeting economic stimulus checks.
Schmitt has sent cease-and-desist letters to St. Louis, Springfield and Branson businesses accused of inflating the prices on KN95 masks. He’s also investigating third-party sellers on Amazon accused of price gouging on things such as hand sanitizer, face masks and respirators.
That seems like time, energy and — taxpayer — money better spent.
Lawsuits against other countries are typically fruitless because U.S. law generally prohibits them with rare exceptions, according to Ashley Deeks, an international law expert at the University of Virginia School of Law.
But let’s imagine for a second that Missouri’s lawsuit is successful.
Doesn’t that open the door to an unimaginable array of lawsuits targeting the United States — and Missouri?
Can island nations, for example, sue us because of our long dependence on coal in Missouri and coal’s contribution to global warming and a host of health problems around the world?
China’s relationship with the world will likely be forever changed because of what happened. Because it exposed its real authoritarian values when it arrested doctors to deter them from speaking out about the danger the virus represented. And because it kicked out Western reporters who were covering the outbreak. It is changed because Americans have awakened — we hope — to the danger of exporting critical manufacturing overseas, no matter how cheap the labor. It is changed because Americans are likely to be more supportive of President Donald Trump’s get-tough economic policies with China going forward.
But let’s be honest. This lawsuit — it’s a misfire.