More overseas recognition needed: experts
China's "One Belt, One Road" (B&R) initiative offers the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sector great opportunities to expand its international influence and make use of global resources, TCM industry players and experts said Thursday. [Special coverage]
But they also noted that it may still take years for people in African and European markets to accept TCM and for drug authorities in countries along the route of the B&R initiative to approve the sale of extracted condensed pills, or Chinese patent medicines (CPM).
"The B&R initiative has been a boon for the TCM industry in countries along the route like Nepal, where traditional Chinese practices like acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping are gaining momentum," Jia Qingliang, president of the China Hospital in Katmandu, capital of Nepal, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Jia's hospital now treats 20,000 patients each year, "a significant increase" from 2009 when the hospital first opened.
As TCM is increasingly being accepted among the Nepalese public, Jia is now cooperating with Tai'an Chinese Medicine Hospital in East China's Shandong Province to build up a TCM Center in Nepal to train professional TCM practitioners. The center was approved last year and listed in the central government's TCM projects under the B&R initiative, according to Jia.
Like Nepal, a total of 183 countries and regions, some of which are located along the route of the B&R initiative, have seen the influx of the TCM industry, according to a white paper released by the State Council, the country's cabinet, in December 2016. Also, TCM has been partly or wholly legalized in B&R countries such as Singapore and Thailand, media reports said.
One of the reasons behind TCM's popularity is that "most countries along the B&R route such as those in Southeast Asia are still developing countries suffering from inadequate healthcare and medical systems," Zhang Yansheng, head researcher with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Therefore, TCM is seen as a "convenient, simple and inexpensive option," he noted, giving it huge market potential in those countries.
"It's like using the rural areas to encircle the cities, which is a great water-testing opportunity for the TCM industry to establish its global reputation," Zhang added. Also, the TCM industry's expansion overseas enables domestic pharmaceutical companies to "take advantage of global resources and import herbs and materials for traditional cures at lower prices," Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Thursday.
For example, Dong'e Ejiao Pharmaceutical Co, maker of Ejiao, a kind of gelatin made from donkey hides to treat ailments such as colds and insomnia, has previously imported donkeys from Niger, an African B&R country, in order to meet soaring demand, the company's CEO Qin Yufeng told the Global Times in an earlier interview.
Another reason to be positive about the outlook for the TCM industry is that Chinese authorities rolled out a roadmap to boost TCM in countries along the B&R route in January.
Under the plan, the country will set up 50 TCM communication and exchange centers in B&R counties and promote 20 TCM international practice standards from 2016 to 2020.
Long way to go
However, experts pointed out that the TCM industry is not so well-recognized outside Southeast Asia, especially in African and European markets where Western medicine is strongly established.
Bai suggested that TCM exports should be prioritized when Chinese culture is being promoted overseas. "Do you remember the sudden demand for Korean cuisine led by the South Korean TV drama Dae Jang Geum? We should learn from it and produce high-quality films and TV dramas that are distributed to B&R countries and feature TCM," Bai noted.
Jia also complained that the legal system in Nepal does not allow his hospital to sell CPM.
"It might take a prolonged period for medical regulators to register and approve a specified CPM product. Maybe it's the time for the Chinese government to step in and make a joint application for domestic drug-makers," Bai suggested.