China may restrict American access to medical supplies in retaliation for intensifying U.S. regulations on Huawei, according to a prominent economist and Chinese Communist Party adviser.
“For vitamins and antibiotics, more than 90% of their raw materials are produced in China,” Tsinghua University finance professor Li Daokui said in response to new regulations targeting the flagship telecommunications company. “The U.S. will definitely not be able to produce them in the short term.”
Li’s comments evoke the thinly veiled threats that state-run media issued earlier this year as international anger raged over China’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic in the initial days of the crisis. He spoke after Commerce Department officials unveiled new regulations designed to make it more difficult for Huawei to obtain electronic supplies derived from U.S. technology, in keeping with American warnings that the telecommunications giant is a platform for Chinese spy services.
“Disrupting the Chinese economy is equivalent to picking a fight with the Chinese people on the food issue,” Li said, according to the South China Morning Post. “China can then pick a fight with the U.S. on the supply of medicines, right?”
“Of course, we will not take the lead in doing this, but if the U.S. dares to play dirty, we have these countermeasures,” he added.
Li is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee, billed by the Chinese government as “an organization of the patriotic united front of the Chinese people.” The United Front is tasked chiefly with “the management of potential opposition groups inside China, but it also has an important foreign influence mission,” according to congressional security analysts.
Such threats could intensify Western interest in establishing supply chains that aren’t subject to Chinese government control, an initiative that already has been gaining momentum this year due to Beijing’s refusal to approve the export of face masks and other medical gear made at American-owned factories in China.
“There could be nothing more ham-handed and catastrophic than for the Chinese to talk some more about ‘how the U.S. created coronavirus, and, by the way, maybe we’ll cut off pharmaceuticals,’” the Heritage Foundation’s Dean Cheng said in March. “You want to have a situation where there really is that kind of a backlash, where the U.S. actively tries to not only decouple but move specifically away from China? That’s inviting that kind of a backlash.”
Li’s comments come as Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping is emphasizing his hope that state and local governments will strengthen economic ties with China, regardless of the confrontations happening at the national level.