US praises China action on fentanyl but sees political risks

Agence France-Presse
US praises China action on fentanyl but sees political risks
US Senator John Kennedy (R-MS) holds up a bag representing fentanyl during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, DC on January 11, 2024.
AFP / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

WASHINGTON, United States — The United States has seen important action by China on curbing fentanyl, a senior official said Friday after talks in Beijing, but he acknowledged the risk that friction between the two powers could "blow up" progress.

Making good on a commitment during a November summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, a US delegation held an inaugural meeting this week in China on the flow of fentanyl, the powerful painkiller behind an addiction epidemic in the United States.

"We recognized some initial steps by the PRC," said Todd Robinson, the assistant secretary of state dealing with narcotics and law enforcement, referring to the People's Republic of China.

"Is it significant? Absolutely," he told reporters on his return to Washington, while adding that the action was not yet enough.

US officials have long charged that China is complicit in the trade of fentanyl, which is many times more powerful than heroin and is responsible for more than 70,000 overdose deaths a year in the United States.

China banned fentanyl exports in 2019 but US officials say that it is still the primary source of precursor chemicals to the synthetic opioid, which are then put together by cartels in Mexico and smuggled into the United States.

Since Xi promised Biden at the summit in California that China would act, "it is clear they have gone to certain companies and either warned them or shut them down," Robinson said.

He also credited Beijing with sending a general warning to chemical producers and sharing information with the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board.

He said that China had the power to act, explaining that after the 2019 ban on exporting fentanyl, "it stopped almost immediately."

Real or symbolic?

The fentanyl talks come at the start of an election year in the United States in which Biden's expected Republican rival Donald Trump is pushing for a more confrontational approach against China.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said it was "naive" to think that China wanted to address fentanyl as Beijing believes the epidemic will weaken the United States.

"I don't think that there has been a sincere effort on the part of the Chinese to disrupt it," Rubio told the One Decision podcast.

"Frankly, I don't think they see any benefit in disrupting it, other than now and then doing some symbolic act as part of some way to show that they're seeking stability in the relationship."

But Robinson said the key issue has been that precursor chemicals had other, legal uses. He described the mood in Beijing as "very positive," with the Chinese hosts speaking to the delegation at length, including over a banquet.

He acknowledged, however, that a resurgence of US-China tensions was "absolutely on the radar" of US officials.

"It wouldn't be the first time if, you know, another balloon flies over the United States or X congressman decides to visit Taipei," he said, referring to a row last year over an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon and Beijing's objections to US support for Taiwan.

The United States will see "how much we can get done in the fastest amount of time, and always cognizant that something could blow it all up."

In 2022, China temporarily severed talks with the United States on climate change, another key priority for the Biden administration, after then House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, the self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.

Tensions have eased markedly over the past year as the Biden administration pursues dialogue with China, although Beijing still resents US measures including banning exports of advanced semiconductors.

US officials believe China wants to focus on economic headwinds at home and feel that it acted with comparative moderation during last month's elections in Taiwan.

vuukle comment




  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with