On Nov. 9, President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping said they would cooperate on counter-narcotics operations, with a special focus on the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Synthetic opioids that can be ordered online often originate in China and have become the most deadly drug group in the United States, leading to some 20,000 overdose deaths last year. Among the most serious is fentanyl, an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin that is often mixed with other drugs without the user’s knowledge.
In a joint statement with Xi, Trump said, “Every year, drug trafficking destroys millions and millions of lives.” He and Xi “discussed ways we can enhance coordination to better counter the deadly drug trade and to stop the lethal flow of poisonous drugs into our countries and into our communities.”
“A special emphasis will be placed on the new phenomena: fentanyl—destroying lives by the millions,” Trump said.
He and Xi are “going to be focusing very strongly on it.”
Xi gave a nod to the agreement, stating that “we will deepen counter-narcotics cooperation.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave more details on the agreement during a Nov. 9 press briefing in Beijing. According to a transcript, he stated, “On the critical issue of opioids, we’ve made some good progress on actions to curb the flow of the harmful narcotics into the United States in order to save American lives.”
“[Xi Jinping] is committed to take new actions, including agreements to control the export of new fentanyl precursors, sharing intelligence on drug trafficking, and exchanging trafficking information packages to identify individuals and criminal networks responsible for trafficking,” Tillerson said.
Manufactured in China
Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids in the United States rose by 264 percent between 2012 and 2015, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Although prescription rates have fallen, overdoses associated with fentanyl have risen dramatically, contributing to a sharp spike in synthetic opioid deaths,” the report states.
Many drugs flowing into the United States either originate in China or are reliant on Chinese-made precursor chemicals. This includes key ingredients for the drug methamphetamine and many synthetic drugs including fentanyl.
In the past, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was unresponsive to requests to help curb the flow of these drugs into the United States, which are often routed through Mexican cartels.
Jorge Guajardo, the Mexican ambassador to China from 2007 to 2013, told the Chinese news outlet South China Morning Post: “Before I came to China, the first briefing I had with the [Mexican] attorney general was on the problem of precursors flowing from China to Mexico. It was the No. 1 issue I had to address. However, we never got anywhere.
“There was never any cooperation from the Chinese side and no intelligence sharing. It got to the point where all [Mexican] government officials visiting China had instructions to bring up the issue.”
The synthetic drugs are often manufactured by companies publicly listed in China. In 2015, there were 150 Chinese companies openly selling the synthetic drug alpha-PVP, also known as “flakka.”
For the CCP, the drug market has in the past been part of its subversive strategy to undermine the United States through non-military means, according to an Oct. 13, 2014, report from U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
The specific strategy is called “drug warfare,” and the Army report says that it is tied to a broader Chinese military strategy designed to “destabilize an adversary.”
The use of drug warfare has been common throughout communist systems. Former Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Joseph D. Douglass explained this strategy in his book “Red Cocaine: The Drugging of America and the West.” It states that communist regimes “have been using narcotics for several decades as a decisive weapon in the ongoing low-level warfare they are waging against Western civilization.”
In China, the history of drug warfare goes back to the Opium Wars waged against China by the British in the 19th century, which fueled the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. Mao Zedong took a lesson from this during the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party, and according to Douglass, he ordered his subordinates to “begin cultivating opium on a grand scale” to both finance the regime and to poison its enemies.
He adds that under the Chinese regime, “opium production was nationalized, and trafficking of narcotics, targeted against non-communist states, became a formal activity of the new communist state.” He notes this “formal activity” continued even after it was exposed by investigations in Japan and the United States in 1951.
This trend is still continuing, and a Drug Enforcement Administration official told Stars and Stripes in 2012 that “China has become the top supplier to Mexican traffickers due to loose regulations on its chemical manufacturing and export industry.”
The new agreement from Trump and Xi, however, signals that the Chinese leadership may be willing to change this.