Some US states and individuals are suing China over the coronavirus.

Is China immune from such lawsuits due to sovereign immunity, or does such immunity only apply to the US government?

edit: NYT is now saying that the purpose of the lawsuits is to prod Congress to make it easier to sue China.

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    Can you cite some of these suits? It's unlikely China would even recognize a suit or judgement brought in US court by individuals or businesses and local courts would have no way to enforce a judgement.
    – Ron Beyer
    May 1, 2020 at 18:26
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    @RonBeyer: There is precedent for individuals suing a foreign nation in US courts, e.g. these suits against Iran. Whether the foreign country "recognizes" the suit or not, the US court could still have the power to seize any assets belonging to the foreign country that are located in the US. May 1, 2020 at 20:04
  • @RonBeyer bbc.com/news/business-52364797
    – MWB
    May 1, 2020 at 23:30

1 Answer 1


The Iran lawsuit depended on a statute directed against Iran, not applicable to the Chinese government. The Alien Tort Claims Act, which gives US federal courts original jurisdiction for torts "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States", neither of which is likely to describe the allegation against the Chinese government. The Chinese government probably would not entertain such a suit, and US courts do not have jurisdiction. It is also unclear how much US property is owned by the government of the PRC which could be seized: reports simply talk about "owned by the Chinese" without distinguishing government vs. private ownership.

  • POTUS recently suggested that it's a possibility that China intentionally let the pandemic spread (by halting flights from Wuhan to other parts of China, while allowing international flights). I'm assuming that the allegations are along these lines.
    – MWB
    May 1, 2020 at 23:46
  • For context: During WW2, the US seized a lot of "alien" property: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Alien_Property_Custodian
    – MWB
    May 1, 2020 at 23:55
  • Again, the Trading With The Enemy Act is not applicable to China. It's not just being alien that counts, there was a specific statutes related to the legal state of war that existed between the US and Germany and Japan.
    – user6726
    May 2, 2020 at 0:05
  • @MaxB Some of these flights were organized by the US government themselfs 2020-01-20: US Consulate to evacuate staff from epidemic-stricken Wuhan May 2, 2020 at 7:07

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