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Where China stands on Fentanyl
Beijing says the "chemicals and related equipment involved are not controlled according to the International Drug Control Conventions, as well as Chinese and Mexican laws."
Fentanyl has emerged as a prominent issue between China and U.S. relations, including the recent trip by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Beijing. Blinken said in the press conference concluding the visit
I raised as a priority the issue of synthetic opioids and fentanyl, a crisis in the United States. Fentanyl is the number-one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49. I made clear that we need much greater cooperation to address this critical issue. We agreed to explore setting up a working group or joint effort so that we can shut off the flow of precursor chemicals, which helped fuel this crisis and a growing number of deaths.
On the eve of the visit, the Wall Street Journal reported
Aides to Blinken say the fentanyl trade is one of the most important issues in the U.S.-China relationship and that it would feature prominently in discussions between Blinken and Chinese officials.
U.S. law-enforcement officials blame Chinese companies for shipping the chemicals used to make fentanyl to Mexico and other locations, where drug cartels and gangs manufacture it and smuggle it into the U.S.
There are numerous reports and analyses in the U.S. blaming China for insufficient cooperation over fentanyl, if not a profiteer from the U.S. crisis. On the other hand, there is very little in international media on where China stands on the issue.
On Wednesday (June 21, 2023) morning, Yu Haibin, Deputy Director of the National Narcotics Control Commission and Level Two Inspector of the Anti-Drug Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security gave a press briefing on China’s anti-narcotics work in 2022, where he answered a relevant question:
Guangdong TV reporter:
This year, the United States has imposed sanctions on several Chinese companies and individuals twice, citing the inflow of chemicals and tablet presses from China into Mexico for the production of fentanyl. What is the National Narcotics Control Commission's comment on this?
China strongly expresses dissatisfaction with the United States' repeated sanctions on Chinese companies and citizens under the pretext of drug issues in order to defame and suppress China.
The chemicals, tablet presses, capsule filling machines, and tablet press molds mentioned by the U.S. are not controlled/scheduled according to the International Drug Control Conventions and Chinese laws; they are ordinary goods.
China has always earnestly fulfilled its obligations under the United Nations' 1988 Convention, implemented the import and export licensing and international inspection system for precursor chemicals, and required enterprises applying for the export of precursor chemicals to submit legal use certificates issued by the competent government authorities of the importing country or guarantee documents of legal use by the importing party. Enterprises applying for the import of precursor chemicals are required to submit guarantee letters stating that the chemicals will not be used for drug production, and if necessary, the competent authorities may conduct on-site inspections.
The competent authorities in our country use the "Pre-Export Notification System" developed by the International Narcotics Control Board to conduct international inspections of precursor chemicals listed internationally and actively notify and inspect precursor chemicals that are controlled/scheduled in our country but not internationally controlled/scheduled. In recent years, China has suspended the export of tens of thousands of tons of precursor chemicals through import and export inspections each year, effectively preventing precursor chemicals from flowing into illegal channels through international trade.
Regarding non-controlled chemicals and equipment, we strengthen publicity and guidance, encourage the self-discipline of enterprises, and prevent their flow into illegal channels. It needs to be clarified that the export authorities and enterprises of the exporting country are unable to have first-hand knowledge of the situation of the imported chemicals in the importing country. According to international practices and conventions, ensuring that international goods are not used for illegal purposes is the basic responsibility of importing enterprises, and the main regulatory responsibility to prevent the loss of precursor chemicals lies with the competent authorities of the importing country.
China-U.S. anti-drug cooperation should be conducted within the framework of respective national laws, and bilateral law enforcement cooperation should be carried out on the track of the rule of law. The U.S. claims that the precursors for processing fentanyl in Mexico come from China, but the chemicals and related equipment involved are not controlled according to the International Drug Control Conventions, as well as Chinese and Mexican laws.
In conclusion, the Chinese government's commitment to drug control has always been consistent and resolute. China has taken the lead in scheduling and controlling substances similar to fentanyl without waiting for evidence of abuse and harm, while the United States, which has been deeply affected by the abuse of fentanyl, has yet to officially schedule and control all forms of fentanyl as a class, and keeps hyping up the issue of so-called Chinese chemicals flowing into Mexico.
We believe that reducing domestic demand and domestic supply is the fundamental solution to the fentanyl abuse problem in the United States. Shifting blame and accusing other countries cannot fundamentally solve the substantive problems. We hope to see more meaningful and concrete actions taken by the United States. China is willing to work with all countries in the world to promote the establishment of a cooperative relationship based on equality, mutual trust, and win-win cooperation.
Newsweek: What is China's position on the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States and what is your response to claims that China is, in some part, responsible?
Qin: In my past year as Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., I have had many discussions with Americans on opioid overdose. A friend told me that his daughter struggled with drug addiction for years, and that his nephew even died of fentanyl overdose, something that really got me upset. As I understand the importance of this matter, I have paid personal efforts to bring about the dialogue between the U.S. Congress and China National Narcotics Control Commission.
China was a painful victim of opium in history. In the 19th century, Britain profited immensely from smuggling opium into China. When China decided to ban the material to save its population and economy, the British launched the Opium War, which started a century of humiliation for China, marked by a slate of unequal treaties and waves of Western aggressions. The repercussions of history are felt even today. With such searing pains in our national memory, China holds an understandably stronger antipathy for narcotics than any other country, as displayed in its zero-tolerance attitude towards all narcotic drugs, as well as stringent control and tough punishment measures. Thanks to these efforts, narcotics are not endemic in China.
This part of history has made China naturally empathize with the United States and other countries in their fight against narcotics, hence our proactive cooperation with global partners under the framework of the United Nations conventions on counter-narcotics. This has been fully recognized and respected by the international community.
But to our regret, some Americans believe that China is the primary source of fentanyl in the United States. Some even fantasize that China is shipping fentanyl to the United States "as a form of payback for the Opium Wars," and that "North America has been flooded with precursor chemicals from China, stifling international efforts," as I read from some opinion articles. These comments are false and misleading.
Have the U.S. and China taken substantive measures toward curbing the flow of fentanyl precursors out of China to places such as Mexico and toward curbing the flow of fentanyl into the United States?
Qin: China and the United States have had decades of productive cooperation in combating narcotics. Though not confronting prevalent fentanyl overdoses or any death case ourselves — because of the rigorous control measures — China has done everything possible on our end, out of goodwill, to help the United States address this problem. On May 1, 2019, China permanently scheduled all fentanyl-related substances, the first country in the world to do so, while the United States has stopped short of doing the same.
On the judicial front, three legal documents have been formulated to support the filing, prosecution, conviction and sentencing of offenses involving these substances. To reinforce fentanyl testing and monitoring, five sub-centers of the National Drug Laboratory have been established across the country.
On the operational level, fentanyl-involved enterprises and personnel have been clearly identified to get a full picture of the precursors and equipment they have and to prevent offenses from the source. The postal and parcel industry has been mandated to verify the real names of both senders and recipients and check the parcel contents, and equipment must be used for security screening, instead of visual inspection, with particularly tight examinations for U.S.-bound parcels.
Key provinces and cities have also launched law enforcement operations to enhance inspection. Thanks to these solid efforts, not a single criminal case has been opened in China that involves the manufacturing, trafficking and smuggling of fentanyl-related substances since their scheduling. In fact, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the United States has seized no such substances stemming from China since September 2019.
So just think how shocking it was for China, for all these efforts, to be sanctioned by the United States in May 2020, with its essential institutions on fentanyl profiling and control, such as the Institute of Forensic Science of China's Ministry of Public Security and the National Narcotics Laboratory, added to America's "entity list," only to curb China's capability to fight narcotics.
The latest accusations have shifted to link China with Mexico, claiming that China is shipping precursor chemicals to the country, where drug cartels produce the lethal drug and smuggle it overland into the U.S. The fact is, however, that China has never received any report or data from Mexico on the use of Chinese precursor chemicals for drug production there, nor has the U.S. provided any evidence about the flow of Chinese chemicals into Mexico for fentanyl production.
Has the United States asked China to take stronger measures against fentanyl flows given the scope of the crisis here, and what further steps could be taken to combat this crisis?
Qin: The United States asks China to monitor the diversion of uncontrolled chemicals and equipment in international flows. But like oil, iron, water and many other substances, uncontrolled chemicals and equipment have an array of legal usages. They are needed to ensure people's normal life. They can be produced, traded and used by any company without reporting to the government. To apply an analogy, steel can be used to manufacture both cars and guns, and you cannot ban steel just because you ban firearms.
At the same time, China has faithfully honored obligations under the UN 1988 Convention. China's import/export licensing and international verification system for all listed chemicals has effectively prevented these chemicals from being diverted into illegal channels through international trade. But the "know your customer" practice that some in the U.S. have been asking about far exceeds the UN obligations.
According to international practices, it is up to the importer and importing country to ensure that imported goods are not used for illegal purposes, not the exporter.
Taking one step back, given the flow of international trade, it is simply impossible for the exporter to thoroughly verify its client located in a different territory. Mexico is a sovereign country; China has no right or capability to fulfill the responsibility on its behalf.
Ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius advised that if people fail to reach their goal, they should first examine themselves for the reason of their failure instead of blaming others. Blaming China is not a constructive way to address the fentanyl crisis. In fact, there are other workable ways, such as stepping up law enforcement operations, strengthening border control, enhancing oversight of fentanyl and its synthetic drugs, penalizing over-prescription and overdose of medications, and raising public awareness. Also, it is high time for the United States to permanently schedule the fentanyl-related substances.
The fentanyl crisis in the United States was not created by China. On the contrary, China is a well-intentioned and sincere partner ready for international cooperation and for global co-governance on counter-narcotics. We hope that the United States will act to stabilize and improve its relations with China and lift the sanctions on Chinese institutions to remove obstacles for such cooperation to proceed.
It is my wish to see America resolve its fentanyl crisis and American people walk out of the shadow of narcotic drugs as soon as possible.
Also in September last year, China National Narcotics Control Committee published a note called Control of Fentanyl-related Substances in China
Control of Fentanyl-related Substances in China
Drugs are hazardous to all mankind. China, in line with the principle of shared responsibility, has always taken an active part in addressing global drug problems.
In recent years, as the world drug situation evolves, fentanyl-related substances and other new drugs are widely abused in the United States and other countries, ramping up the death toll year by year and causing serious social problems. To safeguard the health, safety and well-being of all mankind, China has given full, comprehensive and selfless support to relevant countries to help address these problems, even though fentanyl does not impose serious threat in China with neither large-scale abuse nor death toll reported. On May 1, 2019, China took the lead in the world to schedule the whole category of fentanyl-related substances on a humanitarian basis, played a vital role in preventing the illicit manufacturing, trafficking and abuse of these substances and has won full recognition from the international community including the United States.
After the whole category of fentanyl-related substances had been listed as controlled substances, relevant departments of China took series of targeted measures to put such control policies and regulations in place.
First, legal system was further optimized. Three legal documents regarding filing, prosecution, conviction and sentencing of offences involving fentanyl-related substances were drafted to serve as solid legal foundation.
Second, technical support was enhanced. With five new sub-centers of National Drug Laboratory established throughout China, China has made great progress in improving fentanyl testing and monitoring system.
Third, inspection and control were further strengthened. Inspection, investigation and control campaigns on fentanyl-related substances were launched throughout China to get more information on relevant enterprises, persons, precursors and equipment. High-risk persons were listed for focused control and online illegal information was cleared up to effectively prevent offences.
Fourth, law enforcement was further strengthened. Special campaigns were organized in key provinces and cities to enhance inspection, interdiction and crackdown. There was no criminal case involving the manufacturing, trafficking and smuggling of fentanyl-related substances in China since the scheduling of all types of fentanyl-related substances.
Fifth, international cooperation was further enhanced. The Wang Fengxi Case and Chen Jianping Case regarding smuggling of fentanyl jointly uncovered by the United States and China were publicly adjudged, showcasing the cooperative achievements between the two countries.
In the meantime, China has always strictly controlled precursor chemicals in line with international rules and domestic laws, and continuously strengthened the management and control based on the latest dynamics to prevent illicit diversion.
The control of fentanyl-related substances is a global challenge that calls for joint efforts of all countries. China has fully demonstrated its sincerity and support on scheduling the whole category of fentanyl-related substances. Nevertheless, although stricter control measures have been imposed by the international community and China, fentanyl problem in the United States still keeps deteriorating with death tolls rising instead of falling. The reasons behind this are worth pondering. Now the drug situation in China is getting better after continuous, in-depth and systematic governance, China would be happy to share best practices and experience, and join hands with all countries to address the world drug problems on a cooperative relationship featuring equality, mutual trust, mutual benefit and win-win results.