Two Texas congressmen called on the Trump administration on Monday to sanction Chinese officials over a “duplicitous, ineffective, and cruel response” to the novel coronavirus that they say led to its spread around the world.
The letter is the latest salvo between China and some of its Republican critics in Washington.
Last week, China threatened sanctions against Reps. Dan Crenshaw Houston and Lance Gooden of Terrell, and other GOP congressmen who have backed bills that would allow Americans to sue China for medical and economic damages stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Chinese communist officials can threaten us all they want,” Gooden wrote in a tweet Monday. “We’re not backing down. In fact, we’re all in.”
Crenshaw spent the weekend with Trump at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
The two Texans co-wrote a letter with fellow Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to use the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction 10 Chinese officials.
The act allows the U.S. government to deter human rights violations by freezing funds held by targeted individuals in U.S. banks and barring them from receiving visas to enter the United States.
“These baffling and damaging decisions harmed Chinese citizens and the rest of the world, encouraged the spread of COVID-19, and hindered governments around the world from crafting an effective pandemic response,” the congressmen wrote.”The result has been tens of thousands [of] unnecessary American deaths and substantial economic damage.”
The letter details several accusations against the officials, including that they intentionally suppressed information during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, disseminated misinformation on the virus’ origins and allowed the disease to spread rapidly to 30,000 Uighur Muslims when they were forced by the Chinese government to work in factories deemed unsafe for the general population.
The letter names local officials in Wuhan, where the outbreak started, and top officials at the Chinese Health Commission, the Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Communist Party.
President Donald Trump has also expressed interest in demanding financial compensation from China. The administration is reportedly weighing retaliatory measures against China for the pandemic, including waiving its sovereign immunity.
Banks voiced optimism that Pompeo would be receptive.
“I know Secretary Pompeo shares my dim view of the Communist Party, and I look forward to working with him, and Reps. Crenshaw and Gooden to hold Party officials accountable,” he said in a statement.
Gooden and Crenshaw, along with many of the Republicans calling for the Chinese government to face consequences for the pandemic, are staunch Trump supporters and have followed his lead in bashing the country.
The first infections were in Wuhan. Chinese authorities point to an exotic meat market as the most likely source. But speculation has also focused on a nearby lab that studies pathogens similar to the one that causes COVID-19.
Experts say that the virus originated naturally and was not created in a lab.
China has faced widespread criticism for suppressing early information on the outbreak, but Trump critics suggest the GOP retaliation is an effort to distract from failures by U.S. leaders, after more than 85,000 deaths, the most of any country.
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