US President Donald Trump has said that he will look into the legislation introduced in the Senate a day earlier that proposes sanctions on China if it fails to cooperate and provide a full accounting of the events leading up to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The coronavirus, which first emerged in China's Wuhan city last year, has claimed nearly 3,00,000 lives and infected over 4.3 million people across the world so far. The US alone has recorded close to 85,000 COVID-19 deaths.
"I will certainly look at it (the legislation), they build to sanction China so I will certainly take a look at it. I have not seen it yet," Trump told reporters on Wednesday.
The legislation was introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham and eight other senators on Tuesday.
The COVID-19 Accountability Act mandates the president to make a certification to Congress within 60 days that China has provided a full and complete accounting to any COVID-19 investigation led by the US, its allies or UN affiliates such as the World Health Organization and has closed all operating wet markets that have the potential to expose humans to health risks through the introduction of zoonotic disease into the human population.
Without the certification, the president would be authorised to impose a range of sanctions such as asset freezes, travel bans, visa revocations, restricting United States financial institutions from making loans or underwritings to Chinese businesses and prohibiting Chinese firms from being listed on American stock exchanges.
Following the Senate legislation, Congressman Doug Collins on Wednesday introduced the COVID-19 Accountability Act to hold China accountable for creating a global pandemic by giving the president the authority to impose sanctions on China if they fail to cooperate.
The legislation is co-sponsored by more than two dozen lawmakers.
"While the Chinese Communist regime has inflicted harm on the US for decades, the coronavirus outbreak has shined a light on the urgent need to change course," said Collins.
"The Chinese Communist regime's coverup of the coronavirus outbreak cost hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide and caused unfathomable harm to the global economy, and they must be held accountable.
"By giving the president the authority to impose a wide range of sanctions on Chinese officials, the COVID-19 Accountability Act will guarantee China is held fully accountable for the worldwide devastation they've caused and will ensure the American people get the answers they deserve," he said.
China has denied America's accusation of covering up the extent of its coronavirus outbreak and accused the US of attempting to divert the public attention by insinuating that the virus originated from a virology laboratory in Wuhan.
"China was the first country to report the COVID-19 to the World Health Organisation (WHO), (and) that doesn't mean the virus originated from Wuhan... There has never been any concealment, and we'll never allow any concealment," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said last month.
"A discerning person will understand at a glance that the purpose is to create confusion, divert public attention, and shirk their responsibility," he said.
Meanwhile, Congressman Max Rose, Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism, and Congressman Mark Walker, a ranking member of the subcommittee, urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) to focus on China and provide the subcommittee with details of its intelligence assessments on China's actions related to the pandemic.
"While the coronavirus pandemic travelled the world and devastated my district, China continues to hide critical information for their own benefit," Rose said.
"The Communist Chinese Government cannot be trusted, but I trust our intelligence community can help us get the facts in order to help us beat this pandemic and save lives," he said.
"Enough is enough. I urge the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis to fully investigate these atrocities and get to the bottom of China's apparent malpractice," Walker said.
Even amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese government and Communist Party's efforts to steal intellectual property and trade secrets from American companies remains an ongoing threat, Senator Marco Rubio said.
"Adjusting to the new reality caused by the pandemic, Beijing has shifted its recruitment efforts for the Thousand Talents Program online, and it has increased efforts to hack US medical research institutes for COVID-19 information," Rubio said.
A day earlier, Senator Rick Scott sent a letter to US stock exchanges, major pension plans and underwriters urging them to review their policies and discontinue coordination with US-listed Chinese-based companies considering the growing threat of Communist China.
Separately Congresswoman Jackie Walorski called for the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis to focus on safely getting America back to work and holding China accountable, rather than conducting partisan investigations and scoring political points.
"Aside from sort of debt traps that we're seeing, we've seen in Djibouti, elsewhere, right, where you have to give China a 99-year lease on a port -- to other states. So a region where they're really in debt and it's causing major issues with the economy," a senior State Department official travelling with the Secretary of State told reporters in Germany.