Who says China should pay?

The idea of making China pay COVID-19 reparations is just as absurd as the people making those calls

23 April 2020 | Marcus Reubenstein (Image: Annie Spratt)

The history of the last century of global conflict has shown that reparations reek of little more than revenge. They are destructive not constructive.

In the past two decades there have been numerous warnings of the threat of a global pandemic from the scientific community. Calls for preparedness in nations like the US and Australia have largely been ignored, while pandemic modelling and simulation exercises have been few and far between.

So why are there calls for Chinese reparations and who are they coming from?

The Think Tank

The vast majority of think tanks exist to advance one political agenda or another. They have become incredibly adept at convincing journalists, and the public, that their halls are filled with truly independent thinkers.

Britain’s Henry Jackson Society was one of the first to produce a report calling on China to pay COVID-19 reparations. It calculated China owes the G7 nations US$3.9 trillion for damages from the pandemic.

According to its report, “The Chinese Communist Party has learnt no lessons from its failure in the SARS epidemic of 2002-3.”

Given this pandemic is under control in North Asian nations – communist states and democracies alike – it is perhaps more accurate to say the rest of the world has “learnt no lessons” from SARS.

The overwhelming consensus among the scientific community – including scientists in Australia – is that Asian nations coping with COVID-19 are doing so precisely because they learnt the lessons of SARS.

Opinions for sale

The Henry Jackson Society is a neoconservative group with a clear political agenda and – according to one of its founders – a history of racially motivated policy positions, conflicts of interest and serious non-disclosures concerning the authors of its research. 

In 2017 it was revealed that the society – a registered charity – was being paid a US$12,300 monthly retainer by the Japanese Embassy to fund a smear campaign against China.

News of this prompted one of the society’s co-founders, Matthew Jamison, to write:

“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that the Henry Jackson Society, when it was founded, would become a far-right, deeply anti-Muslim racist organisation, run in the most dictatorial, corrupt and undemocratic fashion and utilized as a propaganda outfit to smear other cultures, religions and ethnic groups.”

Matthew Jamison, co-founder Henry Jackson Society

Jamison has derided one of the Society’s former Associate Directors, Douglas Murray as a “white supremacist” and an ugly “racist anti-Muslim bigot.”

In 2017, he gave a damning assessment of COVID-19 report co-author Dr. Alan Mendoza, saying, “It is well known to many in the London foreign policy community and Cambridge academic circles that Alan Mendoza is a deeply untrustworthy, compulsive pathological liar, who revels in lying and creating mischief.”

Yet this highly-conflicted group produces a report, based on no case law or international precedent, saying China is liable to pay reparations over COVID-19. After that, hundreds of publications around the world accept this without even a cursory examination of the original report or its authors.

The media commentator

Once again, the usual media suspects have lined up to attack China. Leading the charge in Australia is Rowan Dean, Sky News commentator and editor of the marginally less right-wing Spectator magazine. He’ll tell anyone who listens he is the biggest Trump supporter in Australia.

Dean has pushed the line, China “wilfully inflicted” this coronavirus upon the entire world. His comments widely reproduced across News Corporation’s media platforms, every time using the wrong spelling of the world wilful – if they’re not checking spelling what does that say about their attention to checking facts?

The crux of his argument is the entirely baseless allegation that China deliberately unleashed COVID-19 on the world. What he is effectively saying is that China must be punished for a consequence not any deliberate action. 

Prior to life as a media commentator, Dean was an advertising executive and one of his most successful campaigns was for a tobacco company, for which he won a major award in 1989.

A report co-authored by the US National Cancer institute found the global economic cost of tobacco consumption is more than US$1 trillion every year.

Since Dean took his first tobacco pay cheque, that industry has caused the world nearly US$30 trillion in financial damages and claimed more than 150 million lives. Should his mates in big tobacco pay reparations?

After all they had plenty of scientists burying the truth while they ‘wilfuly’ enticed people to buy a product which is estimated to contribute to the deaths of one in every two of its users.

US politicians and lawyers

This week the US State of Missouri filed a compensation claim in the US District Court against the Chinese Communist Party, three Chinese ministerial departments, two local Chinese governments and two scientific laboratories.

That state’s Republican governor, Mike Parson is a close political ally of Donald Trump, who Tweeted last year, “Mike Parson has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

Really it is just a political exercise to shore up votes in the run-up to the November elections, at which Parson will face voters in Missouri.

Despite protestations of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, this lawsuit will fail on a number of grounds, most likely on the long-held notion of sovereign immunity, whereby a state cannot sue another state.

His predecessor, as attorney general, Josh Hawley is now a US Senator, last week he announced the introduction of a bill in Congress that would strip China of its sovereign immunity. Once again, unlikely to change anything.

In 2018, Senator Hawley sued the US federal government over the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).

Hawley is a pro-Trump, anti-abortion, pro-death penalty politician who the National Rifle Association ranks as an “A level” candidate in promoting gun ownership, in a society where somebody is shot every 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

He’s also blamed sex trafficking on the portrayal of women in Hollywood and the media, not on the criminal traffickers themselves.

Corporate America’s exploitation of Chinese workers

As recently as four years ago, the US-based China NGO, China Labor Watch found that a multitude of American toy makers had their products made in factories flagrantly ignoring Chinese labour laws.

It reported that workers in factories supplying Disney, Mattel, Fisher-Price and McDonald’s were doing more than 100 hours of overtime a month – nearly three times the legal limit in China.

Last year these four US corporations reported US$94.1 billion in combined earnings, yet their Chinese workers were being paid as little as $1.05 per hour.

This possibly explains why the corporate world has remained very tight lipped on apportioning economic blame on China?

As recently as seven months ago, another report alleged that Chinese workers making Apple’s iPhone were subject to conditions in clear breach of Chinese labour laws.

Chinese factory owners, who ultimately control worker conditions, blame foreign corporations for using their considerable market power to drive down prices.

Reparations for the GFC?

Prior to COVID-19, the global financial crisis caused the biggest global financial disruption since the Great Depression.

In the United States, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco calculated the total lost wealth of ordinary American individuals, due to sub-prime and the Global Financial Crisis, was a staggering US$23.1 trillion.

As a direct result of the maleficence of the US financial sector, ten million lost their homes taking the number of Americans living below the poverty line to 46.5 million.

Wall Street greed, massive criminal loan fraud and US regulators asleep at the wheel, brought the financial world to its knees. Were there any meaningful actions against the people who wilfully unleashed this financial tsunami?

China undeniably bears responsibility in this pandemic, and to playing a meaningful role to ensure more openness and global cooperation (not the current climate of unilateralism) should the world face another such crisis.

Right now, it would be more constructive if the world focussed its efforts to fight this virus. That could start by paying more attention to the scientific community and far less to right-wing commentators and grandstanding politicians.