EXCLUSIVE: Republican Rep. Brian Mast on Thursday is expected to introduce a measure to permanently withhold payments from the U.S. and other countries on debts owed to the People’s Republic of China as a way of punishing the country for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation is set to be rolled out Thursday morning on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) designating the novel coronavirus a global pandemic.
Mast’s legislation claims that the Chinese Communist Party “actively engaged in a cover-up designed to obfuscate data and hide relevant public health information,” which continues to “limit efforts to identify the original source of COVID-19.”
The measure states that the outbreak of COVID-19 is “a direct result” of China’s “appalling record of human rights abuses, including its suppression of the freedom of expression, as well as its aggressive domestic and global propaganda campaign.”
“The People’s Republic of China should be held accountable for its handling of the COVID-10,” the legislation states. “The United States and other countries should permanently withhold payments on debts owed to the People’s Republic of China in amounts equal to the public costs incurred by such countries relating to COVID-19.”
The first reported case of the virus in China came in November 2019. The first human-to-human transmission of the virus was reported by Wuhan doctors on Dec. 8, 2019, and China failed to inform the WHO of the outbreak until Dec. 31, 2019.
“China’s total lack of transparency and mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, millions of jobs, and left untold economic destruction in the United States,” Mast, of Florida, told Fox News.
“Congress must put America first and hold China accountable for their cover-up by forcing them to pay back the taxpayer dollars that have been spent as a result,” he said.
According to Mast’s office, as of November 2020, China owned $1.063 trillion of the total outstanding U.S. government debt issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s, R.-Tenn., plan last year to press China to waive debt payments was met with concern from some on Wall Street, including Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, who said withholding debt payments could spark a capital war.
FOX Business’ Stuart Varney noted at the time that “America has never reneged on its debt.”
“If we did with China, who would lend us money again?” Varney asked.
Nearly 118 million people around the world have become infected with COVID-19 and more than 2.6 million people have died.
In the United States, 29.15 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 529,000 Americans have died.
House Republicans last year accused China of ignoring rules requiring governments to report any information of a new SARS-like virus to the WHO within 24 hours.
In 2005, following the SARS outbreak, the WHO had updated the International Health Regulations (IHR), which were first adopted by the Health Assembly in 1969, acknowledging that the organization has “a central and historic responsibility” to manage “the control of the international spread of disease.”
The revised regulations included updates to global health security, including “epidemic alert and response,” “global public health response to natural occurrence,” “accidental release or deliberate use of biological and chemical agents or radio nuclear material that affect health,” and “severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), with a view to responding to the need to ensure global public health.”
According to Articles 6 and 7 of the revised IHR, members are obligated to provide the organization with all relevant public health information, including lab results, “within 24 hours of assessment … of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern.” The document later cites SARS as an example.
A report released last year by Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee found that China “could have reduced the number of cases in China by up to 95%, had it fulfilled its obligations under international law and implemented a public health response at an earlier date.”