Rosemary Gibson is a senior advisor at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, and is the author of numerous books investigating healthcare issues. Most recently she co-authored “China RX: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine,” with Janardan Prasad Singh, which documents what has led to China’s increasing dominance in the manufacturing of medicine and the many far-reaching consequences of this.
The Epoch Times: When did you start taking an interest in the U.S. dependence on China for pharmaceuticals? Are there other experts who’ve brought up the issue before your book came out this April?
Rosemary Gibson: I did not start out to write a book about this, since I didn’t even know the issue existed, and that wasn’t something that was generally known. To my knowledge no one has written about this before.
I started to follow through a few threads, one of which is the contamination of heparin that were made in China. I discovered materials that linked U.S. companies here with Chinese suppliers, and like finding the Rosetta stone, I follow each of the leads, then the issue begins to appear.
I also read an Economic Times article from India that discussed how Indian soldiers patrolling in the disputed border with China might find out how their first aid kits are filled with Chinese-made medicine. The national security implications of such reliance is obvious.
Epoch Times: Have you came across any Chinese sources that discuss the growing U.S. dependence on medicine made in China, and how that could be used by Beijing as leverage against us?
Ms. Gibson: I have not yet came across such discussion, at least not in the sources available in English. However, by virtue of the fact that Beijing has a “Made in China 2025” strategy, which clearly lays out plans for promoting China’s global dominance of various industries including pharmaceutical.
Made in China 2025 set specific targets for how many Chinese companies they wanted to promote, what sizes to achieve, the amount of revenue, etc. To enable such grow, Chinese government intentionally invests in the pharmaceutical world to make such dominance possible and to displace Western manufacturers in the United States and Europe.
Epoch Times: How would U.S. dependence on China for medicine impact our interactions with the Chinese regime in Beijing? How would that factor in during a diplomatic dispute, a trade war, or an actual military conflict?
Ms. Gibson: It puts the United States in a strategic disadvantage in a dramatically negative way. If you look back at history during World War II in Europe, food was used as a weapon of war, to starve people into submission. If it can be done with food, surely it can be done with medicine.
United States has labeled oil as a strategic asset because we don’t want any single country to dominate our energy supply. We also don’t want other country to dominate our food supply, like wheat or corn. That is why it is so important to move to label medicine as a strategic asset. If you don’t have medicine, your population’s health deteriorates and can’t defend themselves if there is a disease.
Epoch Times: Is there a medicine that would immediately run into shortage, and be used as a leverage against United States in the event of a conflict with China?
Ms. Gibson: From my research, there is an entire class of antibiotics called Cephalosporin, of which China is dominating the production of the raw material needed for making it. They are used to treat pneumonia, bronchitis, strep throat, and other serious bacterial infections.
If China cuts our supply, we would only have whatever amount there is available on the shelf. I do not know how much stockpile of Cephalosporin there is in the United States, but it is conceivable that within months the situation would become extremely hazardous.
The Department of Defense does maintain a list of essential drugs that are supposed to be maintained in abundance, yet those are the finished drugs, whereas in many cases like Cephalosporin we are relying on China for the raw material to produce those drugs. We already discovered our dependence on China for the production of Doxycycline, the antidote for treating the biological weapon anthrax, after the 2001 anthrax attack in the United States.
Epoch Times: Is there any legislative or executive action that you would like to see to address our vulnerability due to dependence on Chinese-made medicine?
Ms. Gibson: I want to see a tracking and forecasting system, where stockpile of our essential medicines and the sources of their ingredients are closely monitored. This would be a system that conducts risk assessment based on the supply chain, where the companies and the countries that are making these medicines are assessed, so that our strategic vulnerability can be identified.
In addition to tracking we also need an interagency taskforce to forecast global supply and demand of medicine, just as in the case of how oil is treated by the Department of Energy. Currently there is a lack of transparency and we don’t know why many medicines are constantly in shortage. We need to have a system to find out if there is deliberate market manipulation or other factors.
Such an interagency taskforce should involve the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and perhaps others, like the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs. This system will serve as an analytical tool for the private sector but also as a platform for the public interest.