Both of us have firsthand experience with the challenges and opportunities a relationship with China presents for our state and country.

Share story

Greater Seattle is one of the most internationally connected regions in the United States. More than 40 percent of the jobs in our region are tied to international trade and commerce.

China, in particular, is an anchor relationship for our region. Family farms produce apples, wheat and other crops for export, and Washington sells more goods to China than any other state. One in four Boeing airplanes is purchased by China.

As China’s President Xi Jinping visits the United States this week, and as our new administration’s policies take shape, it is no surprise that local businesses are closely monitoring our relationship with China. The health of our region’s economy depends on it. The health of millions of poor women and children around the world depends on it, too.

Yes, our region leads the world in producing apples and airplanes. Seattle also is a leader in global health and development. Local organizations such as PATH forge collaborative partnerships in China and other countries to improve health — for hundreds of millions of people who need it most.

Both of us have firsthand experience with the challenges and opportunities a relationship with China presents for our state and country. The relationship is complicated. From trade disagreements to human rights, the two countries do not always see eye-to-eye.

But those issues often overshadow the productive dialogue and growing relationship between China and our region, with implications for local jobs and global health.

The opportunity to dramatically improve health for the world’s most vulnerable people has never been better. And collaboration with China in this work has the potential to unlock solutions to some of the world’s most deadly diseases and persistent health problems. Together, we can uniquely harness innovation in a way that can benefit many more people.

Factoring in academic success, investment in world-class research, and drug and vaccine manufacturing capabilities, China and the United States are two of the top driving forces of global health innovation. Today, China is the world’s leading producer of active pharmaceutical ingredients and ranks second to the United States in research and development spending (US $200 billion). Chinese President Xi Jinping has increased China’s commitment to global health, including a US $12 billion increase for global efforts to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.

That’s why, for nearly 40 years, PATH has collaborated with Chinese government agencies, research institutes and manufacturers to address urgent health needs around the globe. PATH is a Seattle-based health organization driving innovations — vaccines, drugs, devices, diagnostics and system change — to save lives.

One example has already reached millions of people, saved thousands of lives, and will save many more. Over the past decade, PATH collaborated with Chinese organizations on a vaccine for Japanese encephalitis (JE) — a mosquito-borne virus that afflicts people in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. About one-third of the people who contract the disease die and up to one-half suffer permanent brain injuries, many of them children.

Following a deadly 2005 outbreak in India and Nepal, PATH began to focus on a JE vaccine made and used in China, but unknown and untested outside of the country. PATH coordinated with the World Health Organization, ministries of health, and the vaccine manufacturer to conduct the rigorous quality and safety testing required to meet international standards. PATH also negotiated a lower public-sector price to ensure the vaccine would be affordable. As a result, more than 260 million people outside China have been vaccinated, and another 45 million will receive the vaccine by the end of this year.

This big step forward in the world’s battle with JE is just one example of the positive impact of U.S.-China collaboration. This week, PATH is sending a group of partners, advocates and staff to China to learn more about its growing role in global health and development. We are optimistic about the possibilities ahead, and the opportunities to fight disease and inequity.

Our country’s relationship with China is complex, but is inextricably woven into the fabric of Seattle’s history and business landscape. While we work to address serious issues, we simply cannot ignore the many benefits of collaboration. Our region’s economic health and the health of the world’s poorest families depend on it.