Paul Tsai China Center Engages in COVID-19 and U.S.-China Issues

The Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School has been actively engaged in a range of efforts addressing issues at the intersection of COVID-19 and U.S.-China relations.

Under the leadership of the Center’s Director Professor Paul Gewirtz and Executive Director Robert Williams, Tsai Center faculty and fellows are leading public calls for global pandemic response cooperation; working to secure urgently needed medical equipment from China; organizing and participating in bilateral strategic dialogues and medical professional exchanges; conducting research and engaging with U.S. and Chinese counterparts on pressing legal and regulatory issues; and maintaining a database of Chinese medical and legal authority related to the pandemic.

Members of the Center have organized and participated in numerous “virtual” public events, workshops, and also Track Two diplomatic dialogues with Chinese counterparts on the implications of COVID-19 for U.S.-China relations. Additionally, the Center’s faculty and fellows have been widely cited in the media and have published in a variety of leading outlets on COVID-19.

Public Health and Pandemic Response

Tsai Center faculty and fellows, led by Executive Director Robert Williams, have been working closely with the State of Connecticut and with nationwide volunteer organizations and hospitals, including Yale New Haven Hospital, to secure reliable ongoing supplies of urgently needed personal protective equipment (PPE) from China for delivery to frontline healthcare professionals in the United States.

Alongside these efforts, the Center has worked with the Yale-China Association, Yale School of Medicine, and Yale School of Public Health to connect American medical professionals and PPE specialists with Chinese clinicians and epidemiologists, including faculty at the Xiangya Medical School in Hunan Province who were among the first infectious disease teams sent into Wuhan following the outbreak of COVID-19 in that city. This platform has enabled sharing of information and best practices on PPE burn rates, ventilator use, testing, and treatment of patients along the spectrum from critical to asymptomatic.

The Center has also engaged with regulatory agencies in China to assist in the sourcing of PPE and to better understand new Chinese policies and procedures for approval and export of medical equipment. With the support of colleagues at the Yale School of Public Health, this interaction is evolving to include discussions around prospects for regulatory harmonization and cooperation in the global pursuit of vaccines and treatments.

The China Law Translate project run by Senior Fellow Jeremy Daum has created a database of Chinese medical and legal authority related to the pandemic. The database contains many translated and Chinese-language materials, searchable and sortable by topic, date, and issuing agency, providing unique insight into China's response as well as practical references for other nations confronting the epidemic. By late April, these documents — including treatment and rehabilitation plans, law enforcement measures, and economic stimulus policies — had been accessed by approximately 200,000 users worldwide.

The Center has also provided materials on U.S. and comparative public health emergency response law and policies to faculty colleagues at the Peking University Law School.

Tsai Center Faculty Events and Workshops

Tsai Center faculty have organized and participated in numerous “virtual” public events, workshops, and also Track Two diplomatic dialogues with Chinese counterparts on the implications of COVID-19 for U.S.-China relations. Calling on longstanding relationships, the Center has engaged a broad range of Chinese interlocutors on strategic issues in U.S.-China relations, on how to manage risk in the current crisis, and on whether there are opportunities for cooperation that can be seized to help combat COVID-19 and its effects.

Potter Stewart Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of Paul Tsai China Center Paul Gewirtz was part of a group of U.S. foreign policy experts who on April 3, 2020 published a widely-publicized call for increased cooperation between the U.S. and China in sharing information about COVID-19, developing a vaccine and treatments, and addressing the economic impact of the pandemic. In March, Gewirtz participated in a two-part webinar involving leading former government officials and other experts from both the U.S. and China who shared ideas about the pandemic, how it was affecting U.S.-China relations, and steps the two countries could take to reduce tensions and develop cooperative mechanisms for addressing the challenges. On the U.S. domestic front, where racist acts against Chinese-Americans are growing, he has been writing and working with other groups to highlight the problem (a statement also signed by Center fellows Robert Williams, Susan Thornton, Mira Rapp-Hooper, and Samm Sacks) and developing steps to combat it — drawing on his extensive background in the fields of constitutional law and antidiscrimination law as well as the China field.

Senior Fellow Susan Thornton has held off-the-record group video discussions with counterparts from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, and other Chinese academic organizations to discuss current risks and opportunities in U.S.-China relations.

On April 21, Senior Fellows Susan Thornton and Samm Sacks convened a webinar with the sponsorship of New America on “How Will COVID-19 Alter Our Relationship with China?” Thornton and Sacks discussed the recent deterioration in bilateral relations related to the COVID-19 outbreak and prospects for cooperation to combat the virus going forward.

On April 24, Thornton participated in a panel discussion at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs featuring former Secretary of State John Kerry entitled “COVID-19 and Global Affairs: Crisis Diplomacy.” Over 1,000 people tuned in to the webcast to hear Secretary Kerry and former senior diplomats discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on world affairs and the need for U.S. leadership on the issue.

Thornton also participated in an April 28 web launch of a new report from the United States Institute of Peace on “China’s Impact on Conflict Dynamics in the Red Sea Arena,” where expert participants noted the importance of U.S.-China cooperation in combating past infectious disease outbreaks and the prospects for such cooperation in the case of a major COVID-19 outbreak in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

Other U.S.-China dialogues are being planned. For example, on May 7, 2020, Senior Fellow Samm Sacks will convene a workshop on "The Pandemic & Global Data Governance" to discuss policy trends in China, Europe, India, and Israel. The workshop will explore developments in government and private-sector data access and control policies, including the ways in which new relationships between tech companies and governments are impacting the trajectory of data governance debates around the world. In addition, Executive Director Robert Williams is organizing a U.S.-China dialogue focused on issues of government accountability and the prospects for U.S. and Chinese government and nongovernment entities to lead global pandemic cooperation initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Tsai Center has held a series of virtual roundtable sessions for Yale Law School students and community members to discuss legal and policy aspects of the Chinese government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak as well as broader implications of the pandemic for U.S.-China relations.

Faculty and Fellows in the Media

Tsai Center faculty and fellows have been widely cited in the media and have published in a variety of leading outlets on COVID-19. Examples of recent publications include the following:

Senior Fellows Mira Rapp-Hooper and Samm Sacks coauthored an article in Foreign Affairs arguing that digital technologies will only be effective in fighting COVID-19 if they are accompanied by coherent government policies to deploy and regulate them.

Rapp-Hooper also authored a piece on the U.S., China, and International Order after COVID, and is conducting longer-term research on how the pandemic may change China's approach to international governance, particularly with respect to its Belt and Road Initiative.

Senior Fellow Susan Thornton discussed the likely effects of COVID-19 on China’s global leadership and internal reforms in Barron’s.

Brookings-Yale Fellow Rush Doshi, writing with former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in Foreign Affairs, argued that the U.S. response to the coronavirus risked being a “Suez moment” that could seriously damage U.S. leadership. Doshi has been quoted and cited on COVID-19-related issues in numerous leading publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Axios, the Financial Times, the South China Morning Post, CNBC, and BBC.   

Executive Director Robert Williams has solicited and edited a number of COVID-related articles for Lawfare and has also written for the Washington Post Monkey Cage blog on the issue of sovereign immunity and emerging efforts to use the U.S. judicial system to hold the Chinese government accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fellow Karman Lucero contributed an article to Lawfare that discusses the Chinese government's initial information controls in response to the virus, as well as some of the effects that these controls have had on understanding the effectiveness of different measures to arrest the spread of the pandemic.

Research Associate Mia Shuang Li teamed up with ProPublica to analyze over ten thousand fake and hijacked Twitter accounts used to broadcast Chinese propaganda on international social media, focusing in particular on the response to COVID-19.

Senior Fellow Jamie Horsley is writing an article reconstructing China’s initial response to the emergence of COVID-19, in which she analyzes and provides recommendations relating to its emergency management system, with a focus on transparency during public health emergencies. She is also working on a piece about China’s “Health Silk Road” initiative, the role COVID-19 is playing in it, and how the U.S. should respond.

China Center Student Board Members Write on COVID-19

In addition to writing and other activities by Paul Tsai China Center faculty and fellows, members of the Center’s Student Board have been remarkably active in publishing on COVID-related issues.

Incoming Student Directors Ricky Altieri and Ben Della Rocca have regularly analyzed the implications of COVID-19 for China and U.S.-China relations through their biweekly SinoTech column for Lawfare. Their three most recent articles were published on March 31, April 10, and April 24.

Writing in Foreign Affairs on April 27, incoming Student Director Ben Della Rocca analyzed the implications of COVID-19 for emerging market economies that have received loans from China under its Belt and Road Initiative.

On March 16, Academic Affairs Chair Brian Kim published an article in Lawfare analyzing the legal instruments used by South Korea in combating COVID-19 and possible lessons for the United States.

On April 2, outgoing Student Director Preston Lim wrote an op-ed in The Globe and Mail assessing the role that Canada can play in the wake of the pandemic.