Post-Biden meeting: Can China be trusted to curb illicit fentanyl production?

WASHINGTON – Following the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, China is taking steps to warn chemical manufacturers of potential consequences for producing fentanyl precursors and equipment. The China National Narcotics Control Commission issued a notice, cautioning individuals and companies, including postal and logistics firms, that may be involved in the sale, transport, or export of illegal drugs or precursor chemicals, emphasizing the possibility of criminal charges or fines.

In response to this cooperation, Bloomberg and Reuters report that the U.S. is lifting sanctions on the Forensic Public Security Institute, a Chinese government agency accused by the U.S. of human rights abuses. The agreement marks a significant shift in China’s stance, as it had ceased cooperation with U.S. law enforcement over a year ago amid strained relations.

However, doubts linger among experts regarding China’s commitment to cracking down on companies manufacturing fentanyl precursors. The agreement’s details on how Beijing will regulate opioid ingredients remain vague, and some precursors are legally produced. Robert Ross, a political science professor at Boston College, tells Business Insider that the current agreement will have, at best, a marginal effect on addressing the fentanyl issue in the U.S. 

“The US has to solve its social problems,” Ross said. “If demand in America is there, there will be an international fentanyl supply, whether it’s from Mexico, whether it’s from China.”

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration has identified India as a growing source for finished fentanyl powder and precursor chemicals. 

“Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and makes 20 times the profit of heroin,” Liu Zongyuan, the Maurice R. Greenberg fellow for China studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, told Business Insider. “Low cost, high profit. There are just way too many profiting incentives for people to engage in these illicit activities.”

Illicit activities that are killing a skyrocketing number of Americans. The U.S. is experiencing its deadliest drug crisis in history, with more than 112,000 people dying in the latest 12-month reporting period.