Republican bill seeks sanctions on China over COVID-19 probe

WASHINGTON: A leading US Republican senator on Tuesday (May 12) proposed legislation that would authorise the US president to impose far-reaching sanctions on China if it fails to give a full account of events leading to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of President Donald Trump, said he was convinced that had it not been for “deception” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the virus would not be in the United States, where it has now killed more than 80,000 Americans.

Graham said China had refused to allow investigators to study how this outbreak started and added in a statement: “I’m convinced China will never cooperate with a serious investigation unless they are made to do so.”

Graham said his “COVID-19 Accountability Act” would require the president to make a certification to Congress within sixty days that China had “provided a full and complete accounting to any COVID-19 investigation led by the United States, its allies or UN affiliate such as the World Health Organization (WHO).”

It would also require certification that China had closed all “wet markets” that have the potential to expose humans to health risks, and released all Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates arrested in post-pandemic crackdowns, he said.

The bill would authorise the president to impose a range of sanctions, such as asset freezes, travel bans and visa revocations as well as restrictions on loans to Chinese businesses by US financial institutions and banning Chinese firms from listing on US stock exchanges.

The legislation was co-sponsored by eight other Republican senators.

China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Beijing has insisted it has been transparent about the outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Trump and his Republican backers have repeatedly accused Beijing of failing to alert the world to the severity and scope of the virus, which has sparked a worldwide economic contraction and threatened his chances of re-election in November.

READ: Trump faults China for COVID-19 spread, says US investigating

Trump critics, including some former officials, academics and columnists, have said that while China has much to answer for in terms of its actions early in the outbreak, the US administration appears to be seeking to deflect attention from what they see as a slow US response to the crisis.

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