In an April 21 lawsuit, the State of Missouri is suing China for failing to disclose information on the novel coronavirus. According to Attorney General Eric Schmitt, the Chinese government’s shortcomings may have caused irreparable damages in human suffering and economic losses.
“In Missouri, the impact of the virus is very real” Schmitt said. The case brought by the State of Missouri against the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese ministries, local governments, and laboratories is the first of its kind in the United States. Accusations point to the Chinese government’s failures to report on the outbreak such as to the WHO at the outset, silencing of figures such as doctors in January, and other shortcomings such as suppressing research and refusing to adhere to international health standards. The lawsuit appeared at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Additionally, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and other Republican legislators announced the Justice for Victims of COVID-19 Act and Li Wenliang Global Public Health Accountability Act — for further investigations and sanctions regarding China’s concealment of facts.
Missouri has suffered 6,321 cases and 218 deaths as of April 24. The state’s department of public safety, which received shipments of 4 million respirator masks from China, has sent back the materials over concerns of substandard performance to meet US requirements. Missouri Governor Mike Parson has cut spending in government departments from education to transportation to natural resources, as individuals from doctors to students to family members of victims face difficulties. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the legal action of April 21 had no factual or legal basis.
The recent ruptures between the US and Chinese governments has shifted the attention away from closer ties between the US heartland and China. Since a 2004 visit to China, former governor of Missouri Bob Holden had established relations with the country such as through and building educational ties such as inviting Chinese students to the state and supporting Chinese language and culture programs at the University of Missouri’s Confucius Institute. Holden was instrumental in forming the United States Heartland US-China Association (USHCA), currently with 20 member states, which sent a delegation of mayors to engage Chinese leaders, businesses, and culture in November 2019. St. Louis was the first US city to start a sister city relationship linked with Nanjing in China in 1979; now the state has five such relationships.
The United States and China are also finding ways to cooperate in sharing information and resources to deal with COVID-19. Chinese health experts have shared valuable experience such as on preparing for the virus and managing municipal responses to USHCA. To date, the federal government has sent $17.6 million of protective masks and related items to China, an increase in value by 1,000% since the previous year; American companies and foundations have also provided necessary support to public health workers in China. Missouri exports $2.6 billion in goods to China per year, or roughly two-fifths of total exports to the Indo-pacific region.
Both countries have the opportunity to shift the narrative of US-China relations for better. Holden remarked of his trip to China, “I found that Chinese people have similar core values as people in the American heartland … and they value honesty dealing with others.”
Amanda Mei is a research intern in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She graduated from Yale University with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies in 2018.