China Needs to Pay Reparations for Unleashing COVID on the World – The American Spectator
On June 11, the Times of London published an investigative report that left little ambiguity that the COVID-19 pandemic was a direct consequence of the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s “gain of function” experiments, in which viral pathogens were modified in order to amplify the risks associated with infection. These efforts at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were directed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in connection with potential military applications for such research.
The Times’ reporting makes clear that the U.S. State Department knows that Beijing was aware of the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s lab leak and covered up the nature of the research being conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The department has concluded that the “initial outbreak could have been contained in China if Beijing had not covered it up.” Pointedly, a State Department investigator summarized the department’s conclusions as follows: “It has become increasingly clear that Wuhan Institute of Virology was involved in the creation, promulgation, and cover-up of the COVID-19 pandemic.” (READ MORE: Why China Got Away With It)
In a sane world, a report convincingly revealing the state-directed origins of the pandemic would be the biggest story of not only the week, but the year. COVID-19 impacted every corner of the globe and aspect of our lives, and its repercussions are still being felt.
Instead, in the U.S., the two stories currently commanding the most media attention are President Donald Trump’s indictment for mishandling classified documents and the allegations that President Joe Biden may have taken bribes from hostile foreign powers while he was the sitting vice president of the United States (along with Hunter Biden’s recent wrist-slap from the Department of Justice).
While the respective audiences for these stories tend to be defined along ideological lines, it is hardly partisan to assert that each of these allegations, if true, have grave national security implications. Misuse of classified material, along with the abuse of the public trust for self-enrichment — in contravention of the legitimate interests of the country these officials were elected to serve — are clear violations of constitutional and statutory provisions crafted to secure the national interest.
That said, Trump’s and Biden’s alleged transgressions require further inference to demonstrate actual (versus potential) harm to national security. Trump’s retention of classified documents could theoretically result in such material being used in a manner injurious to U.S. interests (say, through sale to a hostile foreign power); similarly, bribes paid to a public official may be deployed to direct policy outcomes counter to national security interests, along with blackmail to that same end. The “national security risk” epithet attached to these allegations is abstract; only the most fevered minds believe that Trump and Biden — even if culpable of the respective allegations against them — sought to willfully injure the United States as a primary objective.
So what constitutes “national security”? It is usually defined as the defense of a sovereign state, comprised of its citizens, economy, society, and institutions, and is a legitimate responsibility of the state. Characterized in this way, national security may be one of the only uncontroversial public goods commonly accepted to be an appropriate task of the federal government.
When government fails in this responsibility — as it so markedly did on 9/11, with direct implications for the American people and which required neither inference nor leaps of logic — citizens need no coaching as to who the bad guys are and how their government failed to protect them. Seen in this way, it is clear that what transpired in Wuhan is indistinguishable from what occurred on 9/11 — our government proved powerless to inhibit a hostile foreign power’s actions — specifically, dangerous gain of function research pursued for military advantage — which ultimately killed millions
Notwithstanding the Times’ impressive reporting and the U.S. government’s investigations, there is still much we do not know about what occurred in Wuhan. But the picture emerging from these and other sources is one of a great power recklessly violating the norms of conduct of civilized nations. It was virology research undertaken in collaboration with that nation’s military, with consequences subsequently lied about and covered up rather than shared with the World Health Organization and the scientific establishments of other nations, even as local officials in China attempted to inform their countrymen and the world.
If the concept of an “international community of nations” is to mean anything at all — and if treaties like the Paris Agreement and organizations like the WHO and World Trade Organization are to retain any shred of substance and moral standing — China must be held accountable for its misdeeds. Failing to do so will only invite more bad acts and give the lie to the transnational efforts and conclaves in which China participates. How can the U.S. justify entering into binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions with rogue nations who can’t even be trusted to not unleash bioweapons upon the world?
While the ills visited upon humanity by China in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be undone, reparations would represent a critical, penitential step in the right direction. In recent years, the notion of what actions warrant reparations has evolved considerably from its original meaning, which was an agreement between or among states (usually in connection with the end of an armed conflict) designed to punish an aggressor or revisionist power. It is this straightforward concept, centered around restitution where possible and damages where not possible, that should apply to China.
What would Chinese reparations specifically be for? While imposing a highly infectious pathogen upon the world would seem to be a self-evident reason, it is necessary to catalogue with precision the injuries caused. An abridged list would certainly include payments in respect of lives lost, illnesses contracted, decrements to economic output resulting from lockdowns, mitigation costs (including vaccine and therapeutics development, PPE production, public health investment, health care services, etc.), social injury (“mask shaming” and the various other forms of societal dysfunction weakening the bonds of civil interaction), and the enduring disruptions to industrial supply chains and reversal of global economic integration, each of which have degraded living standards.
For the world, whatever sums deemed adequately compensatory for the havoc inflicted by China are still likely to be small compensation for the damage actually incurred. For China, in the long view, reparations would still be a relatively small price to pay in order to remain a member in good standing of the global community.
In the current U.S. political climate, “reparations” has become a loaded word, used in the context of recompense for the stain of slavery. Irrespective of one’s view of the propriety and workability of an American slavery reparations regime, reasonable people can agree that there are myriad practical issues with its implementation related to timing, culpability, who pays/who benefits, how to calculate damages, and the like.
Many, if not most, of these challenges don’t apply in respect to China and COVID-19. The party responsible can be held accountable shortly following its alleged transgressions, and those directly impacted — the people of the world — are readily identifiable.
While it is mystifying that our elected representatives and media figures aren’t giving more air time to these reports, all is not lost. As evidenced by the slavery reparations debate, the way to get people talking about something is to talk about it — relentlessly.
Notwithstanding the usual chorus of useful idiots — including those who in the early days of COVID-19 cried “racism” if one pointed out that the virus emerged from China — a significant constituency exists that should readily understand that if we’re not talking about the origins of the pandemic and demanding accountability, we are asking for the next global catastrophe.
Reparations isn’t just about retributive justice, although that matters. It can also be a powerful deterrent.
Richard J. Shinder is the founder and managing partner of Theatine Partners, a financial consultancy.