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US officials headed to Beijing for fentanyl talks

A table full of fentanyl and other designer drugs seized by CBP. (Kris Grogan/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
January 30, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A delegation of U.S. officials is in Beijing this week for talks with their Chinese counterparts about resumed cooperation on ending illicit outflows from China of precursors for the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which was suspended amid frosty relations in 2022.

Following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August 2022 trip to the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China claims as its sovereign territory, Beijing announced that it would stop working with U.S. law enforcement to crack down on exports of fentanyl ingredients.

But restoration of cooperation was one of the three main outcomes of U.S. President Joe Biden’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco in November, along with a return to military-to-military talks and cooperation on regulating artificial intelligence.

In Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday, U.S. and Chinese officials will begin fleshing out how that cooperation will take shape, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke to reporters on Sunday on condition of anonymity following rules set by the White House.

The talks would “support concrete enforcement actions with the goal of countering the evolving threat of synthetic drugs, and to address the supply and distribution of precursor chemicals,” they said.

“A big goal of this is continued pressure, continued dialogue, ensuring we continue to push and encourage joint law enforcement actions.”

Leading cause of death

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it has been labeled one of the largest killers of American adults.

“100,000 people a year die in the United States from fentanyl overdoses. More people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 49 die from fentanyl than any other cause,” the official said.

U.S. officials have blamed China for allowing exports of fentanyl precursors – which are turned into the drug in Central and South America for export into the United States – but Beijing has said the “root” of the problem is American drug users themselves.

Still, Chinese officials have pledged to collaborate with U.S. law enforcement as part of the broader thaw in ties between the two countries agreed to by Biden and Xi in San Francisco last year.

The American delegation in this week’s talks will be led by Jennifer Daskal, the deputy assistant to the president and deputy homeland security advisor, according to a statement from the White House.

Daskal will be joined by eight others, including Rob Silvers, under secretary for strategy, policy and plans at the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting administrator Trou Miller and Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram.

A separate White House official said following Friday’s meeting in Bangkok between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that the United States had already seen a marked reduction in fentanyl in-flows since the Biden-Xi summit.