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Prime minister backs GSK in corruption row

Published on 04/12/13 at 08:31am
David Cameron image

Prime minister David Cameron has defended London-based pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline over its treatment in China during a visit to the country.

This comes as GSK’s medicine and vaccine sales in China dropped 61% in the last quarter, following the ongoing corruption probe launched by the country into the firm’s alleged business practices.

GSK's boss Sir Andrew Witty is among a 127-strong business delegation travelling with Cameron on a trip intended to boost UK economic ties with China, and draw a line under a period of diplomatic tensions between the countries, notably over the country’s poor human rights record.

Asked about the scandal while in Shanghai, Cameron told reporters in the country that he didn’t want to comment on an ‘ongoing case’.

But he added: “All I’ll say is that from all my dealings with GSK I know that they are a very important, very decent and strong British business that is a long-term investor in China, and it’s a business that very much does think about the long-term development of its products and its businesses. I think it is right to raise a case like that.

“Britain has a record of properly standing up for British businesses and British individuals, raising individual cases in the right way and about having a proper dialogue with the Chinese authorities about the issues.”

Currently dozens of GSK employees - all Chinese - are being detained over allegations that the company funnelled around £320 million in bribes to doctors and hospitals to persuade them to prescribe its drugs.

One detainee was paraded on China’s CCTV state television in September, admitting in part to the allegations.

Last month Mark Reilly, the British former chief of GlaxoSmithKline’s Chinese operation, returned to the country to ‘help’ police with bribery investigations but was barred from leaving. He is being kept in China by investigators while they look into the claims.

Cameron’s defence of a British-based pharmaceutical firm follows a newly laid precedent set by science and universities minister David Willetts this year, after he warned the NHS to start using AstraZeneca’s antiplatelet Brilique or face losing more AZ staff from the UK.

The drug has had a slow to start to life since being approved in 2011 but Willetts asked the NHS in January: “To increase its use of [Brilique], amid mounting political concern about the drugs company’s commitment to British jobs.”

UK ‘no big power’

Meanwhile, Cameron’s visit may have attracted an estimated £6 billion in deals, but the battle for respect still has not been won as Chinese state media has dismissed the UK as ‘just an old European country’ that is only fit for studying and travel.

An editorial in China’s Global Times, which reflects the thinking and opinions of the country's leadership, pointed out that the “UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese”.

The tone is however sharply at odds with the comments made publicly by China’s leaders during Cameron’s visit, but the tension between the two countries behind the scenes may be a barrier to deepening commerical ties.

Ben Adams

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