Why Macau is pushing Chinese medicine

September 14, 2015 08:01
The Guangdong-Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Scientific Industrial Park, seen in this artist's rendering, is expected to be completed in the first half of 2017. Photo: Internet

The aim is to make Chinese medicines scientific and standardized and turn them into products to be sold all over the world.

That is the ambition of the Guangdong-Macau Traditional Chinese Medicine Scientific Industrial Park being built on 500,000 square meters of land in Hengqin, the peninsula in Zhuhai that is the closest part of the mainland to Hong Kong.

This project received a major boost this Monday when the first large company in this sector signed a contract to invest in the park.

Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals Corp. (GPC) signed a framework co-operation agreement to work with the park in a strategic partnership to register Chinese medical products and spread the culture of the medicines.

The importance of the signing in Guangzhou was underlined by the presence of senior officials from Beijing including Wang Guoqiang, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission and director-general of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Established in 1951, GPC is one of the biggest companies in this sector, with sales last year of 33.53 billion yuan, up 16.24 per cent over 2013.

It has 21 subsidiaries and makes nearly 50,000 different products including Chinese and western medicines, chemicals, medical equipment and health products.

In his speech at the signing, Wang said that he hoped more mainland companies would follow GPC and accelerate the industrialization of Chinese medicines, in their research and development and help to diversify the economy of Macao.

“We want to turn the culture and philosophy of Chinese medicines into products and equipment which we can export to western countries,” he said.

Visit a hospital in Taiwan and the mainland and you find the department of Chinese medicine inside, next to the other departments.

But not in Hong Kong where doctors trained in western medicine consider the practice unscientific and unproven.

As a result, the two disciplines are strictly separated.

Since the departure of the British, the government has become more supportive.

In 1999, it passed the Chinese Medicine Ordinance and in August 2012 set up a preparatory task force for a Chinese Medicine Development Committee.

It is chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health.

However, mainstream medical opinion and a majority of Hong Kong people choose western medicine over Chinese.

That is even more the case among Chinese communities overseas, who consider traditional medicine only a supplement to the main treatments they receive.

The Macau government has chosen to develop Chinese medicine as a new industry.

The department of Chinese medicine at the University of Macau has 29 faculty members and several hundred graduates.

“We have invested in new laboratories in Chinese medicine and this was recognized by the Ministry of Science and Technology in Beijing,” said Rector Zhao Wei.

“This is exceptional in Hong Kong and Macau. Academically speaking, this is challenging and exciting.”

This is the State Key Laboratory of Quality Research in Chinese medicine, one of two state key labs on campus.

This year, the two labs have a research budget of close to US$17 million.

“In the past, Chinese medicine was not treated as a science,” Zhao said.

“We did not know the side effects of a herb or how to control the quality. We are using scientific methods to measure their side effects and hope to translate this into real products in a few years that are scientifically proven. A university cannot sell products, so we will transfer the technology to a company and hopefully receive a portion of profits.”

Prior to GPC, 30 companies have invested in the park.

In his speech at the signing, Secretary for Economy and Finance Leong Vai Tac said construction of the park was due to be completed in the first half of 2017.

“GPC will benefit from the policies favoring the Hengqin area of Zhuhai as part of the Pilot Free Trade Zone of Guangdong.

“The government attaches great attention to the development of traditional Chinese medicine which is regarded as an important strategy to diversify the economy,” he said.

All this was welcome news to the people of Macau, who have seen the revenue from gambling fall for 14 months in a row.

Its co-operation with Hengqin and Zhuhai is proving a mixed blessing.

Fanny Vong Chuk Kwan, president of the Institute for Tourism Studies, said on Monday that the number of participants in MICE in Macau in the first half of the year fell 17.5 per cent to 40,367 from 48,899 in the same period in 2014.

MICE stands for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions.

Zhuhai and Hong Kong are competing fiercely for the same business. Can traditional medicine become a new point of growth?

-- Contact us at [email protected]


A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.