China weaponizes counternarcotics cooperation with U.S., risking millions of lives

More deaths, more misery.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) suspended anti-drug trafficking, specifically trafficking of illicit fentanyl and precursors, cooperation with the U.S. to protest a visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August, effectively politicizing a matter of law enforcement and weaponizing a matter of life and death.  

In the U.S., an ongoing fentanyl abuse and overdose epidemic has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the past year and has devastated all fabrics of society.  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin.  As little as one or two milligrams of fentanyl can be enough to achieve the same effect as 30 to 50 milligrams of heroin.

At the end of the day, if left unmitigated, illicit fentanyl is an existential threat not only to the U.S. but to the rest of the world as well, because unlike heroin, which has to grow and harvest in poppy fields and requires much labor, time and land, synthetic opioids like fentanyl can be manufactured quickly, indoor and with chemicals that can be easily acquired.  

It is estimated the cost of manufacturing illicit fentanyl is 100 times cheaper than heroin.  Therefore, it is no wonder Chinese criminals are moving aggressively into manufacturing and trafficking fentanyl and precursors.  China remains the primary source of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the U.S.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) believed Chinese criminals mainly produced and exported precursors to Mexican cartels, which then manufactured and trafficked the completed fentanyl into the U.S. and across the world.  It is known that Chinese criminals were working with the two biggest cartels, the Sinaloa cartel and Jalisco New Generation cartel.

Both cartels were known to operate drug labs in Mexican cities where they produced illegal fentanyl to ship to the U.S., a growing trend in recent years.  U.S. law enforcement officers have significantly increased fentanyl seizures along the Southern border with Mexico, seizing more than twice as much fentanyl in 2021 than in fiscal 2020, and four times the amount seized in 2019. 

Illicit fentanyl trafficking is a serious transnational crime carried out by Chinese criminal syndicates.  And by refusing to work with the U.S. to stem the flow of illicit fentanyl and precursors into North America, which originated in China, the CCP, which always wanted to be a major player on the global stage, has shown that it is irresponsible and cannot be relied on to do the right thing.  The CCP’s decision to refuse cooperation on counternarcotics will result in more American deaths and more deaths worldwide.

China is the world’s largest manufacturer of pharmaceutical ingredients.  Even though there are thousands of chemical and pharmaceutical facilities operating both legally and illegally in the country, and often the line between the two are blurred, the CCP has the technical capability and expertise to regulate and monitor the industry and to weed out the bad actors, which were highlighted by the fact the CCP was able to mobilize vast resources to surveil 1.4 billion Chinese citizens, and to execute a zero-Covid policy. 

To the CCP, fighting crimes and saving lives are subordinated to its political objectives, which in this case, were to isolate Taiwan and to warn off the U.S. from giving support to Taiwan.  The CCP has vowed to take Taiwan by force, if necessary.  However, Taiwan, an independent country, has never been ruled by the CCP.

Drug trafficking destabilizes democracies, fuels crime, corruption, violence and irregular migration.  But the CCP does not care about all of that.  From the refusal to cooperate with the U.S., the free world has seen that from the CCP’s perspective, law enforcement cooperation is highly selective, self-serving and is given out as a quid pro quo for being subservient to the CCP’s wishes.  

Additionally, because of the sheer level of corruption, the CCP rarely cracks down on organized crimes unless the criminals specifically challenge the authority of the CCP and also, more often than not, particularly at the local level, officials are susceptible to bribes from criminals.

Be that as it may, although it is understandable the CCP wants to challenge the U.S. for the top spot as the world’s superpower and to upend the current rules-based international order, it is certainly not good optics to achieve this political goal by sacrificing millions of at-risk lives at the mercy of illicit fentanyl.

Photo credit: iStock/prpicturesproduction.  Stock photo of young female partygoers.

Lee Kok Leong

Lee Kok Leong

Kok Leong, executive editor, has overall editorial responsibility for the direction and focus of Maritime Fairtrade. He has two decades of working experiences, including holding senior regional roles in business-to-business (B2B) print and online publications. He enjoys his work as a journalist, and regards it as a calling.

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