GOP rep eyes 'Magnitsky' law to punish Chinese officials on coronavirus cover-up, urges Pompeo probe

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Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., is calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to form a task force “to identify and investigate” Chinese government officials for their role in allegedly silencing doctors and journalists who have spoken out about China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Further, Smith suggested that the U.S. apply the Global Magnitsky Act -- an Obama-era measure that lets the U.S. sanction human rights abusers -- to target specific Chinese officials involved in going after whistleblowers, without punishing the country as a whole.

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“Prompted by China’s malign acts and omissions, I ask that you investigate the role played by Chinese government officials and utilize existing tools to hold bad actors accountable,” Smith said in a letter to Pompeo obtained by Fox News.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., wants to use the Global Magnitsky Act to target specific Chinese officials regarding the coronavirus response. 

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., wants to use the Global Magnitsky Act to target specific Chinese officials regarding the coronavirus response. 

Smith specifically referred to “officials responsible for ‘disappearing’ [Dr. Ai Fen], who spoke publicly about being silenced for her discovery of the virus in Wuhan, as well as citizen journalists reporting on the crisis” and others such as human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong and activist Li Qiaochu who appear to have been “arbitrarily arrested and disappeared from view” after being critical of China’s response to COVID-19.

"These are gross violations of human rights," Smith said in an interview with Fox News, saying that the U.S. should "use every means at our disposal" to find out who is responsible.

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In his letter to Pompeo, Smith lamented that while China has gone after lower-ranking police officials for the detention of Dr. Li Wenliang -- a doctor who warned about the outbreak, was reprimanded and later died of the disease -- no one has faced even a “minimal amount of accountability” for the above incidents.

“Investigating these state-sanctioned disappearances should also lead to holding accountable those with command responsibility or who are in positions of authority,” Smith wrote, pointing to Wuhan mayor and provincial Deputy Communist Party Committee Secretary Zhou Xianwang.

In an op-ed published on FoxNews.com, Smith also urged using the Magnitsky law -- which he helped sponsor -- to "hold accountable Chinese public security officials who targeted whistleblowers and members of the press in China."

Magnitsky Act proponent Bill Browder said he agrees with Smith’s call to use the global version of the law to punish Chinese government bad actors. The original version of the law is named after his friend and colleague Sergei Magnitsky, who had alleged corruption involving Russian officials and later died after being beaten by Russian guards in 2009.

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“China has had one of the worst records in human rights and so far has gotten off scot-free,” Browder told Fox News. “It’s time to change that and the Global Magnitsky Act is the perfect tool because it allows the US to target specific human rights abusers with devastating sanctions while still allowing trade and diplomacy to carry on."

Smith also called for Pompeo to direct an investigation of China’s influence in the World Health Organization and how it held back warnings from Taiwan and other information, as well as “the spreading of false information” such as a January tweet about the lack of evidence of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus.

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"This is all about image," Smith told Fox News, asserting that China's influence is part of a "global power push."

The New Jersey Republican emphasized in his letter the need to “differentiate between Chinese people and culture—and ensuring Chinese Americans are never unjustly targeted -- and the brutal government of the People’s Republic of China, which all too often seeks to intimidate members of the Chinese diaspora.”