The Trump administration is considering legal action against China after it seized control of valuable coronavirus medical protective equipment, refusing to allow U.S. companies to export it out of China.
Executives for the U.S. companies 3M and Honeywell claimed that in January the Chinese government took control over the personal protective equipment (PPE) they manufactured in China and blocked the supplies from being exported. Lawyers for President Donald Trump are now considering legal recourse, the New York Post reported Sunday.
3M and Honeywell had produced medical supplies currently in short supply in the U.S., such as N95 respirator masks, but those U.S.-owned manufacturers said the Chinese government prohibited them from selling to anyone but China. The Chinese government reportedly paid the standard wholesale prices for the supplies.
In a February Fox News appearance, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro assessed China decided to “nationalize effectively 3M, our company.”
At the same time in January that China was blocking exports of PPE, they were also buying up protective equipment supplies from around the world, and imported approximately 2.46 billion of “epidemic prevention and control materials,” a White House official told the New York Post. Of those pieces of imported protective equipment, China gathered in an estimated 2 billion masks.
Jenna Ellis, a senior legal advisor to the Trump re-election campaign, said Trump is now considering various actions such as a complaint through the European Court of Human Rights or some other recourse through the United Nations.
“In criminal law, compare this to the levels that we have for murder,” Ellis told the New York Post. “People are dying. When you have intentional, cold-blooded, premeditated action like you have with China, this would be considered first-degree murder.”
Michael Wessell, a founding member of the federal US-China Economic and Security Review Commission similarly assessed China’s hoarding actions left the U.S. lacking many of the PPE supplies needed to fight the pandemic outbreak once it reached the U.S.
Wessell, who previously served as a top staffer for ex-US Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) assessed that, now that the coronavirus has largely passed on from China to other countries, China is handing off some of those hoarded supplies as though they are providing the equipment as a humanitarian gesture. He said the effort is an attempt “to try to curry goodwill with American people when some of the problems we’re facing are the direct result of Chinese policies.”
While Wessell warned that some of China’s actions are likely illegal, taking legal action “does little good for the patients who are in the hospital on ventilators — and might not have been there had they had access to PPE.”