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Can China be sued in the U.S. and forced to pay for coronavirus losses? Legal experts say no

Though President Trump and other conservatives blame China for the enormous damage inflicted here by the coronavirus, legal experts say the recent efforts to sue Beijing in U.S. courts for the trillions of dollars in losses are almost certain to fail.

That’s because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which stands as a strong barrier to suing a foreign state, including a “political subdivision” or “instrumentality” of a foreign government. The law warns judges that a “foreign state shall be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States and of the states,” with just a few exceptions.

One is for “commercial activity” that is “carried on in the United States by a foreign state” or causes “a direct effect” here. For example, if Argentina sold bonds in this country and defaulted on them, it could be sued for the losses. Similarly, if China made a contract with California to supply medical equipment, it could be sued if it failed to deliver what was promised.

The other major exception is for terrorism. The law says a “foreign state shall not be immune” for claims arising from terrorism, including an “act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking or the provision of material support or resources” to those who carry out such acts.

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