Trump Senate ally seeks China sanctions over COVID-19 probe


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A leading U.S. Republican senator proposed legislation on Tuesday that would authorize the U.S. 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.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wears a face mask during a break in a Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

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 the outbreak started. He 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 60 days that China had “provided a full and complete accounting to any COVID-19 investigation led by the United States, its allies or U.N. 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 crack-downs, he said.

The bill would authorize 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 U.S. financial institutions and banning Chinese firms from listing on U.S. 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.

The U.S. national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, and Larry Kudlow, the national economic adviser, have warned against investment of federal retirement dollars in Chinese firms given “the possibility of future sanctions will result from the culpable actions of the Chinese government” with respect to the coronavirus.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also hinted at future sanctions on China for the devastation caused to the global economy and human life.

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.

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 U.S. administration appears to be seeking to deflect attention from what they see as a slow U.S. response to the crisis.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler

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