As China Dominates Drug Manufacturing, Expert Says US Should Protect Medicine as a Strategic Asset

May 9, 2018 Updated: May 18, 2018

As Chinese companies are increasingly dominating the global pharmaceutical market, an expert says it is high time for U.S. policymakers to start treating medicine as a strategic asset and to ensure the American public has a healthy reserve of essential drugs laid away in case of a crisis.

Rosemary Gibson, a senior adviser at the Hastings Center, said on May 7 that it would be a grave mistake for the United States to rely on a single country to make drugs that Americans rely on for their health and basic survival.

That country is China, which has been rapidly expanding its pharmaceutical manufacturing industry and is now the maker of thousands of drugs found in U.S. hospitals and pharmacies. The Chinese regime has a plan to be the “pharmacy of the world,” according to Gibson, and it could soon overtake India as the dominant manufacturer of generic drugs.

Gibson’s new book, “China RX: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine,” co-authored with Janardan Prasad Singh, documents what led to the U.S. dependence on Chinese-made drugs. It details how the Chinese regime has overtaken—and in some cases, put out of business—many key U.S. and global drug companies by undercutting and stealing from competitors, and cutting corners.

While speaking about her new book at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University on May 7, Gibson said that U.S. policymakers need to take immediate steps to change the current approach to regulating medicine, which treats it as “no more important than a T-shirt.”

“We need to view medicine as a strategic asset, just like how we view oil and energy supply,” Gibson said. “A strategic asset is something that will make our country fall apart if we don’t have it.”

Gibson warned that the rapidly growing dependence by the United States and the world on Chinese-made drugs could turn out disastrous if there is a “Fukushima-type event” in China. The Chinese regime could also easily deprive Americans of essential drugs in the event of a conflict in East or South China Sea, for example.

In World War II, the U.S. federal government worked with American pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer to make sure there was enough essential medicine for U.S. troops, especially penicillin, which saved tens of thousands of soldiers’ lives. When industry and government work together, they can make sure the country’s drug policy is consistent with national security, said Gibson.

Ironically, the manufacturing of penicillin is now practically monopolized by Chinese manufacturers, along with many other essential drugs, such as vitamin C and heparin. Gibson’s book details how Chinese “drug cartels,” supported by the Chinese regime’s aggressive industrial policy, have seized control of global drug markets.

Dan Slane, the former commissioner of the congressionally mandated U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission, also said on the panel that U.S. government has to incentivize drug companies to manufacturer here, otherwise China “will wipe out everything.”

Citing India’s tense standoff with China over border disputes last year, Gibson said that Indian media has widely reported on how the country’s growing dependence on China for drugs could make India vulnerable in the event of a conflict.

“Imagine an Indian soldier opens his first aid kit, finds out the emergency medicine inside is running out, and it is made by China,” Gibson said, recalling reports in Indian media that raised much alarm there. “We have yet to see a prominent article in U.S. media talking about our dependence on Chinese drugs.”

Discussing how the U.S. government could move to make medicine a strategic asset, Gibson said it is more important to ensure that U.S. industry has the continuous capacity to manufacture essential drugs in good quality and quantity, as compared to just stockpiling these medicines.

Policymakers should also move to support greater innovation in drug manufacturing, Gibson said, as there haven’t been many advances in pharmaceutical technology in recent decades.