U.S. and China engage in talks to combat fentanyl trafficking

American and Chinese officials hold talks on joint efforts to curb fentanyl trafficking, fostering cooperation amid broader geopolitical differences.

American and Chinese officials engaged in a two-day meeting to discuss collaborative efforts in curbing the flow of fentanyl into the United States. This marks a significant step in cooperation between the two global powers as they navigate their complex relationship. The meeting is the inaugural session for a new counternarcotics working group, focusing on addressing the opioid crisis in the U.S., with particular attention to fentanyl and its ingredients produced in China.

The talks were initiated following an agreement between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden during their meeting outside San Francisco in November. While the two nations grapple with major differences on various fronts, including trade, technology, Taiwan, and human rights, the joint efforts to combat drug trafficking signal a cooperative approach.

The U.S. is urging China to intensify efforts to control the export of chemicals, often processed into fentanyl in Mexico before reaching the United States. The Chinese public security minister, Wang Xiaohong, emphasized the productive nature of the discussions, stating that both sides reached a common understanding on the work plan for the working group. Jen Daskal, the head of the U.S. team and deputy homeland security advisor in the White House, highlighted the significance of the issue, noting that President Biden had sent a high-level delegation to underscore its importance to the American people.

Historically, China was a major supplier of fentanyl, but Beijing’s crackdown in 2019 resulted in a significant reduction in seizures of fentanyl shipments from China. The current focus is on stopping the export of precursor chemicals that contribute to the production of synthetic opioids. Synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, have been a major contributor to the deadliest drug crisis in the U.S., with over 100,000 deaths linked to drug overdoses in 2022. While China had previously resisted U.S. appeals for assistance, relations began to thaw leading up to Biden and Xi Jinping’s meeting in November 2023.

Notably, the talks faced a setback in 2022 when China suspended cooperation in several areas, including narcotics, in response to a visit to Taiwan by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The recent shift in approach by China, including discussions on fentanyl cooperation, followed the lifting of U.S. sanctions on the Public Security Ministry’s Institute of Forensic Science, imposed in 2020 over human rights violations against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. The collaboration between the U.S. and China on counternarcotics reflects a diplomatic effort to find common ground amidst broader geopolitical challenges.