In the aftermath of the shootdown of the Chinese spy balloon last week, there is considerable concern that Beijing’s dominance in antibiotic manufacturing could spell trouble in relations between the United States and that country.
China’s soaring manufacturing output includes a significant level of medicine production. Should China pull back exports of certain types of treatments, experts fear that it could lead to serious implications for the United States.
The Chinese dominance in pill manufacturing could be a major part of the upcoming conflict between Washington and Beijing. The large majority of ingredients used in common medicine production are controlled by China.
The United States faces a further challenge because most drugs used within the country are not manufactured domestically.
… “America “can’t even make penicillin anymore.” The United States… is almost entirely “dependent”on Beijing for the manufacturing of penicillin and other antibiotics to combat superbugs. Were China to “shut the door on exports, w/in months hospitals would cease to function.”
— Morgan Ortagus (@MorganOrtagus) November 27, 2022
As a result, the treatment options early in the pandemic were severely strained by supply chain disruptions. Many of the initial supply issues have been solved or reduced in severity.
However, that does not mean that a future global crisis could not affect American supplies of medicine. Furthermore, some national security experts warn that China could utilize this as a means to leverage concessions from the United States, including regarding Taiwan.
A March 2020 Senate hearing stated that “the United States faces an existential threat posed by China’s control over the global supply of the ingredients in thousands of essential generic medicines.
The issues surrounding the supply of antibiotics came to a head during the coronavirus pandemic for reasons indirectly caused by the virus.
Antibiotics do not treat viruses, though many Americans suffered from severe bacterial infections during or following their bouts with COVID-19. As a result, there was a significant need for medicines such as azithromycin to treat lung issues, among others.
Furthermore, other major types of crucial medicine are not produced in the United States. The last domestic penicillin plant closed in 2004. It had once produced more than two-thirds of the global supply.
However, China has been able to manipulate markets so that its drugs sell at cheaper prices than U.S.-manufactured ones, driving domestic production to minimal levels or out of business altogether.
The issue is likely to be a major one in the 2024 presidential race, especially depending on the candidates’ positions not only related to China but also domestic manufacturing in general.