Washington loses Chinese cooperation in countering fentanyl


Washington provocations against China may have narcotic catastrophe as side effect. Writes Lucas Leiroz

Tensions between China and the US are getting worse. Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taipei, Beijing has imposed several sanctions on the US, being the banning on anti-drug cooperation the first of them. The impact of this sanction is extremely relevant for the US, which depends on Chinese help to prevent substances such as fentanyl from entering its territory. This type of drug has been causing a serious epidemic of overdoses in the US for years, and now the threat seems even greater.

White House spokespersons recently spoke out condemning the Chinese attitude of interrupting cooperation with the US in the fight against drug trafficking, stressing the need for both countries to work together for countering fentanyl, a substance that is a chemical base for several drugs that have become popular among young Americans. Last year alone, more than 100,000 Americans died from overdose due to fentanyl addiction, turning the situation into a public health crisis.

Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), said: “At a time when illicit fentanyl continues to claim a life every five minutes, it’s unacceptable that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is withholding cooperation that would help to bring to justice individuals who traffic these illicit drugs and who engage in this global criminal enterprise (…) The disruption would have global implications (…) China has played and must play a key role in helping disrupt the illicit flow of drugs like fentanyl and their precursor chemicals”.

In response to White House’s statement, on August 12, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin also commented on the case, stating: “In disregard of China’s stern warning and repeated representations, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted on her provocative visit to China’s Taiwan region, which seriously undermined the political foundation of China-U.S. relations (…) As for the fentanyl abuse in the United States, I’d like to say that first, the root of the crisis lies in the U.S. (…) According to the International Narcotics Control Board, the United States is the world’s largest producer and consumer of fentanyl-like substances. Americans, who account for 5 percent of the world’s population, consume 80 percent of the world’s opioids (…) Second, China has made great efforts to help the United States solve the fentanyl problem (…) Third, the responsibility of undermining China-U.S. counternarcotics cooperation rests entirely with the U.S. side”.

In fact, the US is interpreting the Chinese countermeasures to Pelosi’s visit as an affront because Washington faces a serious problem with fentanyl and needs Beijing’s help to continue its anti-drug strategy, considering that Chinese chemicals exported to US and Mexico are the main raw material for the manufacture of this drug – with the Mexican cartels being some of the biggest suppliers for the American market of fentanyl-based drugs.

Since 2019, Beijing has established strict export control on fentanyl and similar substances, with the aim of preventing them from reaching clandestine laboratories and being used to manufacture drugs. The US, however, did not implement any rigid substance control to stop the synthetic opioid crisis. On the contrary, the US government was late in applying anti-drug measures and favored the emergence of clandestine laboratories affiliated to the Mexican cartels within US territory itself.

In fact, for some years, China controlled the entry of fentanyl into the US more than the US authorities themselves. But the situation has reversed in recent days due to the diplomatic crisis – and now the scenario is even more worrying for Americans. If Washington does not rush to create a chemical control system and does not make an effort to incisively combat drug trafficking, the overdose epidemic will increase even more, as China will no longer impede the entry of these substances into the US.

The Chinese measure does not directly imply an increase or decrease in drug trafficking in the US. Beijing is just abdicating from administering the flow of chemicals to the US and leaving that to the responsibility of the American authorities themselves. It is not the Chinese who are manufacturing fentanyl-based drugs, but the cartels that are taking advantage of Chinese products to produce illicit substances. The responsibility to prevent this lies with the US government and if local authorities are not competent to do so, it is not China’s fault.

This is just another case that illustrates how the US loses with its international anti-China policy. Indeed, for Washington to regain cooperation, the path is really simple: stop foreign interventionism, respect one-China principle and cease acting as a “global police”, turning its attention to the domestic problems.

Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.


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