(CTN News) – American and Chinese officials convened on Tuesday to engage in discussions aimed at collaboratively addressing the influx of fentanyl into the U.S., reflecting a cooperative effort between the two global powers amidst their complex relationship.
This two-day meeting marked the inaugural session of a newly established counternarcotics working group.
Central to the discussions was the issue of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid causing widespread devastation in the United States, with a specific focus on the ingredients for the drug originating from China.
In a November meeting outside San Francisco, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden reached an agreement to renew cooperation in various areas, including the fight against drug trafficking.
These agreements represent a modest advancement in a relationship strained by significant disparities on matters such as trade, technology, Taiwan, and human rights.
The United States is urging China to take more substantial measures to restrict the export of chemicals that are reportedly processed into fentanyl, often in Mexico, before the final product is illicitly transported into the United States.
Landmark Discussions on Fentanyl Cooperation Between U.S. and China
Chinese Public Security Minister Wang Xiaohong remarked that the two sides engaged in thorough and practical discussions, reaching a mutual understanding on the working group’s action plan.
He conveyed these sentiments during a ceremony commemorating the group’s inauguration.
Jen Daskal, the leader of the U.S. delegation and deputy homeland security advisor in the White House, highlighted that President Biden had dispatched a high-level team to underscore the significance of the issue to the American people.
Formerly a major supplier of fentanyl, China received credit from the U.S. for a 2019 crackdown, resulting in a substantial reduction in seizures of fentanyl shipments from China. The current focus is on halting the export of the precursor ingredients.
Synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, are major contributors to the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history, with over 100,000 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2022, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more than two-thirds involving fentanyl or similar synthetics.
In the past, China rejected U.S. appeals for assistance amid deteriorating relations between the two global powers, often asserting that the U.S. should address its domestic problems internally instead of attributing them to China.
Official talks were suspended in 2022 when China halted cooperation, including on narcotics, in protest of a visit to Taiwan by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The thaw in relations began leading up to the Biden-Xi meeting in November 2023. In October of the same year, a U.S. Senate delegation raised the fentanyl issue during a visit to Beijing, noting that Chinese officials expressed sympathy for the victims of America’s opioid crisis.
China, however, declined discussions on cooperation until the U.S. lifted sanctions imposed on the Public Security Ministry’s Institute of Forensic Science.
The sanctions, imposed by the Commerce Department in 2020, accused the institute of complicity in human rights violations against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang region.
In a significant move, the U.S. quietly agreed to lift the sanctions as a means to secure cooperation on the fentanyl issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi acknowledged the “removal of the obstacle of unilateral sanctions” in a recent speech on China-U.S. relations.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller characterized this action as “an appropriate step to take,” considering China’s willingness to address the trafficking of fentanyl precursors.