China is a dominant force when it comes to generic drugs in particular, which account for the vast majority of medicines that Americans take. We rely on China for 90 percent of our antibiotics, and for drugs for everything from HIV/AIDS to cancer to antidepressants.
China is fully aware of the leverage. It notoriously threatened via its state-run media to cut off our supply of drugs (except fentanyl, of course) and plunge the US 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 another if it is in their self-interest to do so.