US Seeks Reengagement with China to Stop Illicit Fentanyl as Blinken Heads to Beijing

The United States is “actively seeking to reengage” China on counternarcotics, including stopping the flow of illicit synthetic drugs like fentanyl into the U.S., said the State Department ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing in early February.

U.S. officials admit engagement between the two countries on these issues “has been limited in recent months.”

“We don’t have any recent meetings to read out or to preview,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA on Tuesday, when asked if talks to combat fentanyl have been resumed after Beijing suspended collaboration with Washington on the issue in protest of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August.

“Though its past action has helped counter illicit synthetic drug flows, we do hope to see additional action from the PRC (People’s Republic of China) – meaningful, concrete action – to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told VOA this week.

In 2019, China added fentanyl-related substances to the list of controlled narcotic drugs.

While Beijing is no longer a major source of the synthetic opioid flowing to the United States, U.S. officials said Washington continues to see Chinese-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production and other illicit synthetic drugs.

Bipartisan congressional majorities have approved legislation to prioritize U.S. efforts to combat international trafficking of covered synthetic drugs.

The FENTANYL Results Act was signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden through the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 at the end of last year.

Fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49.

The FENTANYL Results Act would authorize programs through the State Department to build foreign law enforcement capacity to detect synthetic drugs and carry out an international exchange program for drug demand reduction experts, according to Democratic Representative David Trone and Republican Representative Michael McCaul, who co-authored the bill.

Trone said his nephew died of a fentanyl overdose alone in a hotel room.

 

A recent report by the U.S. Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) underlined growing threats of an animal sedative called xylazine (often known as “tranq”) mixed with illicit fentanyl. The risk of overdose multiplies when xylazine is combined with fentanyl.

“A kilogram of xylazine powder can be purchased online from Chinese suppliers with common prices ranging from $6-$20 U.S. dollars per kilogram. At this low price, its use as an adulterant may increase the profit for illicit drug traffickers,” the DEA said in a report late last year.

On Dec. 15, 2021, the State Department announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Chuen Fat Yip, a Chinese national charged in a five-count federal indictment, including manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance knowing it will be unlawfully imported into the United States.

“We have no updates on Chuen Fat Yip,” a spokesperson told VOA when asked if the Chinese government is cooperating on his case.

Yihua Lee from VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.

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