Chinese and American officials held the first meeting of a working group that aims to curb the flow of illegal drugs like fentanyl to the U.S. and the chemicals used to make them.
“We reached common understanding,” China’s Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong said Tuesday, describing the talks in Beijing as “professional” and “pragmatic.”
“Our two sides agreed to follow the principles of mutual respect, managing differences, and mutually beneficial cooperation as we work to carry on cooperation on counternarcotics,” Wang said.
The U.S. side emphasized the need for progress. “President Biden sent such a significant delegation to underscore the importance of this issue to the American people,” Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Jen Daskal said at the meeting.
She referred to the meeting between Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the U.S. last year and him telling the story of the child of a friend in Delaware who died of a fentanyl overdose. “This was a deeply personal story of President Biden, but it is unfortunately not a unique story in the United States.”
The talks underscore how ties between China and the U.S. have stabilized since Biden and Xi met in California in November. The working group was one of the main outcomes of that sitdown, and it was quickly followed by the U.S. lifting sanctions on a Chinese government forensics laboratory in return for Beijing’s promise to clamp down on the fentanyl trade.
Biden is eager to show progress in the fight against fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which have caused U.S. overdose deaths to skyrocket in the last decade. Opioids have become an issue in the 2024 election, with Republicans accusing Biden of not doing enough to stop fentanyl from coming across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mexican cartels are a prime source of the drug, which they often produce using chemicals made and shipped from China. In December, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Mexico to discuss issues including fentanyl.
The U.S. has seen evidence of China taking steps to pursue companies that make precursor chemicals for fentanyl and disrupting illicit financial transactions related to them, senior administration officials have said.
China cut off counternarcotics cooperation with the U.S. following the 2022 visit of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-governing island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.
Beijing and Washington agreed in 2016 to combat the flow of the drug. The administration of former President Donald Trump pushed Beijing to do more, and in 2019 it declared fentanyl and its precursor chemicals controlled substances and sentenced some traffickers to long prison terms. That ended up diverting more of the trade through Mexico.
Senior officials from a range of Chinese and U.S. government departments joined the discussions in Beijing, which will continue on Wednesday.
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