Will China use antibiotics against US amid trade war?
Published: Sep 10, 2019 09:58 PM
China has more than just rare-earth minerals to rely on amid the trade war with the US - it also has antibiotics, according to recent media reports.

It is understandable that China's dominance in antibiotics has made some observers uneasy amid the trade tensions. However, there is little chance that China will weaponize antibiotics to fight back against US tariffs.

A fragile supply chain of antibiotics in the US complicates US relations with China. Gary Cohn, the former top economic adviser to Donald Trump, has warned the president that China produces 96.6 percent of the antibiotics used in the US, according to an article on UK newspaper the Sun's website. 

China is now the world's only source of some key ingredients for antibiotics. This makes some US officials aware of the seriousness of the situation. Cohn has "asked Trump what he would tell mothers when their babies were dying of strep throat because the US does not produce penicillin," the Sun's article said.

China is reportedly the world's largest exporter of ingredients for antibiotics and vitamins. Li Daokui, a leading macroeconomist from Tsinghua University, said in March that medical systems in some developed countries would not function well if China reduces its exports of those ingredients. The words have been seen as a signal that China may curb its exports of antibiotics as a countermeasure in trade tensions with the US.

The market has perhaps read too much into Li's words. Antibiotics are a trump card for China, but there is little possibility that Beijing will use it to fight back against the US. 

China will try its best to prevent a trade war with the US from harming innocent American patients and causing casualties. China has various tools that it can deploy to hit back against the US, such as rare-earth minerals and US Treasuries. There's no need to rely on antibiotics.

However, the US-launched trade war has a direct impact on the supply chains between China and the US. Even if Beijing has no intention of weaponizing antibiotics, trade tensions may lead to a rise in prices of antibiotics in the US market, and American people will have to pay the price.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.