Schumer Says He Asked China’s Xi to Appoint Senior Official on Fentanyl

Schumer Says He Asked China’s Xi to Appoint Senior Official on Fentanyl
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks at a news conference with (L-R) Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sen. John Kennedy (R-La), U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, Sen. Mike Crapo(R-Idaho), and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in Beijing on Oct. 9, 2023. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Oct. 10 said Beijing agreed to “look into” his request to appoint an official responsible for the deadly fentanyl.

Mr. Schumer, along with five other Democrat and Republican senators, arrived in China on Oct. 7. The delegation had meetings with high-ranking Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials and its top leader, Xi Jinping, on Oct. 9.

“I asked Xi to appoint a senior official on the China side, and we would appoint a senior official” on fentanyl, Mr. Schumer said during a briefing at the Beijing residence of U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns. “They said they would look into that.”

The bipartisan delegation, led by Mr. Schumer and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), has prioritized fentanyl and trade in their trip to China.

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), a delegation member, said she spent most of her time talking about fentanyl. The epidemic caused by fentanyl, she said, affects 1.4 million people in her state and causes about 500 overdose deaths every year.

Another member of the group, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), said fentanyl was an area of disagreement in the talks. The Chinese side differed with the senators on its ability to control the crisis, he added.

The Biden administration has sought for months to restart cooperation with China to curb the flow of fentanyl, which has become the “No. 1 killer” of Americans aged 18 to 49, according to the State Department. The global fentanyl supply chain, according to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, often started from chemical manufacturers in China.

China ‘Needs to Do More’

China “needs to do more as a global partner to disrupt illicit synthetic drug supply chains,” Todd Robinson, assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told reporters in a July briefing.
Drug cartels in Mexico are known to purchase precursor chemicals from the Chinese regime and synthesize fentanyl into pills before selling them on U.S. soil. Last August, Beijing halted talks with Washington regarding its role in the U.S. fentanyl crisis, among other critical areas, following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
The fentanyl issue was raised by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June when he met with Mr. Xi and the regime’s top diplomats in Beijing. Mr. Blinken said at the end of his visit to China that the regime only “agreed to explore setting up a working group or joint effort” to stem the flow of precursor chemicals.
On June 23, the Justice Department unsealed the first-ever charges against Chinese entities and nations, accusing four chemical makers and eight Chinese nationals of trafficking precursor chemicals directly into the United States. In the following months, dozens of Chinese entities and nations were blacklisted by the Treasury Department as part of the broader efforts to address the opioid crisis.

Matt Miller, a spokesperson for the Department of State, said in August that the administration “continued to make progress” on working with China to address the fentanyl issues, noting that Beijing is “not at the point of establishing the fentanyl working group.”

“We continue to press the Chinese side to agree to,” he said.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (2nd R) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) (3rd L) attend a bilateral meeting in Beijing on Oct. 9, 2023. (Andy Wong/ POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (2nd R) and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) (3rd L) attend a bilateral meeting in Beijing on Oct. 9, 2023. (Andy Wong/ POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Empty Promises’

Mr. Schumer hailed Beijing’s response as progress. The fact that Mr. Xi didn’t reject his request to appoint an official on fentanyl outright, Mr. Schumer said, indicated Beijing’s willingness to restart the dialogue.

“[Xi] could have said, ‘First, as we said before, first remove the sanctions.’ He didn’t say that,” Mr. Schumer said.

Beijing has refused to hold talks on fentanyl unless Washington lifts trade restrictions placed on a Chinese police forensics science institute, The Wall Street Journal reported in July, citing unnamed sources.
The Ministry of Public Security’s (MPS) Institute of Forensic Science was added to the Commerce Department’s Entity List in 2020 over its complicity in the CCP’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs in the far-western region of Xinjiang.
More than 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities have been detained in Xinjiang, where they have been subjected to forced sterilization, torture, and forced labor. The United States, as well as several other Western countries, have designated the regime’s actions against Uyghurs amount to “genocide.”

In a separate online event on Oct. 11, Mr. Burns said Beijing complains about the U.S. sanctions against the MPS’s forensics institute.

“But that was for reasons having to do with human rights violations in Xinjiang, nothing to do with narcotics,” Mr. Burns told the online forum hosted by the nonprofit National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

Mr. Burns said the administration is trying to “work our way through this problem.”

“The diplomatic problem is that the Chinese refused, as of now, to have a sustained conversation with us for how we can work to prevent Chinese companies from exporting precursor chemicals to the drug cartels in Mexico, and 90 percent of the precursor chemicals that the drug cartels use come from Chinese companies.”

In August, a group of senior House Republicans penned a letter to Mr. Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, urging them not to follow through with Beijing’s request to lift the sanction.

“The CCP is using American lives as a bargaining chip to achieve sanctions relief for its human rights abuses,” the group of lawmakers—including Select Committee on the CCP Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas)—wrote in the letter dated Aug. 1.

Deaths related to fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine—have risen steadily in the United States.

From 2016 to 2021, drug overdose deaths involving the highly addictive fentanyl more than tripled, according to a May report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It said that the fentanyl-related death rate increased from 5.7 per 100,000 people in 2016 to 21.6 per 100,000 in 2021.
National overdose deaths hit a new record in 2022. The CDC recorded over 100,000 overdose deaths, with nearly 70 percent linked to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

The lawmakers cited the conclusion from the Drug Enforcement Agency, saying that China “remains the primary source of fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States.”

China “has an obligation to cooperate with the United States on counternarcotics work without preconditions,” they wrote.

“We must be careful not to compromise on our values of basic human rights in exchange for empty promises.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.