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EXCLUSIVE: Indiana GOP Rep. Jim Banks has sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr urging them to bring a case against China to the International Court of Justice (ICIJ) for the country’s actions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter, obtained by Fox News on Monday, was co-signed by 22 other lawmakers in the lower house of Congress. It claims that China has violated the 2005 International Health Regulations by suppressing information about the COVID-19 outbreak in the city of Wuhan earlier this year and underreporting the number of infections and deaths caused by the contagion.
“The Chinese state made intentional false claims to its own people and the world about the nature of the virus,” Banks wrote in his letter. “China rejected repeated offers from the [World Health Organization] and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] in late January and early February to study the new disease without explanation.”
Banks added: “If China fails to submit itself to a fair trial in the International Court of Justice, the Charter of the United Nations gives guidance to injured parties: Articles 49-51 explain how states could suspend their obligations to China as means to induce Beijing to fulfill its responsibility for the calamitous damages inflicted on the world.”
China in recent weeks has come under intense scrutiny for its handling of the virus’ outbreak and how it allowed it to spread worldwide.
Pompeo and others have pointed fingers at an institute that is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has done groundbreaking research tracing the likely origins of the SARS virus, finding new bat viruses and discovering how they could jump to people.
“We know that there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was,” Pompeo said.
U.S. officials say the American Embassy in Beijing flagged concerns about potential safety issues at the lab in Wuhan in 2018, but stressed there's no evidence the virus originated there nearly two years later.
According to a recent analysis by the Associated Press, more than 3,000 people had been infected before China’s government told the public what it had concluded six days earlier — that a pandemic was probably coming,
Critics have accused Beijing of muffling early warnings, such that the Chinese were assured the risk of sustained human-to-human transmission was low even as infected people entered hospitals across the country and the first case outside China was found, in Thailand.
“Doctors in Wuhan were afraid,” said Dali Yang, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Chicago. “It was truly intimidation of an entire profession.”
The United States, though, has also faced criticism over its response to the pandemic, including over the president's early promises to have ample testing, a key factor in containing the disease.
More than 761,000 people in the U.S. have been sickened with COVID-19, not counting large numbers whose illnesses are not being registered, and more than 40,000 have died, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.