by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A country learns about itself in a crisis, and one revelation in the coronavirus emergency is that we can’t make our own penicillin. …
… The story of penicillin is the tale of U.S. dependence on China-sourced pharmaceuticals and active drug ingredients writ large.
From 2010 to 2018, U.S. imports of pharmaceuticals from China increased 75 percent. China is the second largest exporter of drugs and biologics to the United States behind Canada, and our dependence is even greater, given that China is the source of the active ingredients of many drugs produced elsewhere. India, another major source of drugs for the U.S., gets about 75 percent of its active ingredients from China.
China is a dominant force when it comes to generic drugs in particular, which account for the vast majority of medicines that American take. We rely on China for 90 percent of our antibiotics, and for drugs to treat everything from HIV/AIDS to cancer to depression.
China is fully aware of its leverage. It notoriously threatened via its state-run media to cut off our supply of drugs (except fentanyl, of course) and plunge the U.S. into “the mighty sea of coronavirus.”
Even if China weren’t a malign global competitor (it is), a remorseless dictatorship (it is), or a dishonest kleptocracy (it is), there would be risk inherent in having so many of our medications and their components coming from one country. We become vulnerable to any disruption of Chinese production, whether from disease, political unrest, or war.
Beijing is a particularly nasty actor, but the coronavirus has demonstrated that even friendly nations will keep medical supplies from one other if it is in their self-interest to do so.
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