China, US resume talks on fentanyl, showing negotiation is the way out: experts
Biden admin may harbor selfish agenda of using meeting outcome to woo votes
Published: Jan 30, 2024 08:52 PM
Chinese Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong (second from right) and US Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Jen Daskal (second from left) attend a meeting for the inauguration of the China-US Counternarcotics Working Group at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on January 30, 2024. Photo: AFP

Chinese Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong (second from right) and US Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Jen Daskal (second from left) attend a meeting for the inauguration of the China-US Counternarcotics Working Group at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on January 30, 2024. Photo: AFP

China and the US reportedly resumed talks in Beijing Tuesday on jointly stemming the production of ingredients for the drug fentanyl. The shift from blaming China to seeking cooperation signifies a significant change in the US approach toward the issue, highlighting that negotiation and cooperation are the way forward for the two countries to solve their problems, experts said. 

While some experts suggest that the Biden administration may use the meeting's potential outcome to woo voters, there is a consensus that it has the potential to demonstrate to Washington politicians that the zero-sum game between the two countries can be overcome. This cooperation could also alleviate some potential impact from the US presidential election, according to these experts.

Tuesday's meeting included high-level US officials from the State Department, Treasury, Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department, Washington has said, per AFP report.

The US says it will "provide a platform to facilitate ongoing coordination designed to tackle the illicit production, financing, and distribution of illicit drugs," according to media report. 

Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong met with US Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Jen Daskal and a delegation of US counternarcotics team, and the two sides announced the inauguration of the China-US Counternarcotics Working Group in Beijing on Tuesday.

When asked for details, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at a Tuesday briefing that During the meeting between Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan last week, the two sides agreed to start the work of the China-US counternarcotics cooperation working group. 

"China has released relevant information. We hope that the US side will show sincerity, work with China in the same direction and continue to carry out practical counternarcotics cooperation based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," Wang noted.

It is the first high-level meeting between Chinese and US officials after Chinese and US heads of state reached an important consensus during their San Francisco meeting on setting up a working group and carrying out cooperation on drug control in November 2023. 

"This is a key part of the implementation of our bilateral cooperation on this effort," a US official was quoted by Reuters as saying on Sunday.

Chinese experts expect the meeting to yield substantial results as the heads of states have reached consensus on this issue, and to lay out detailed steps for further cooperation. 

An election issue

Fentanyl is a leading killer in the US, contributing to 75,000 deaths in 2022, according to media reports. There has been increasing pressure on US President Joe Biden to take measures to curb the crisis, and the issue has become a hot topic for 2024 US presidential election. 

Cooperation on tackling fentanyl crisis has become a top priority for the US in its discussions with China lately, Li Haidong, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University told the Global Times. The US has placed significant emphasis on addressing the fentanyl issue in order to demonstrate to voters that "it's not us that doesn't want to solve your problems. It is the other country that is creating those problems. But we are on it."

This strategy is a common tactic employed by US politicians to woo supporters, Li said, noting that the Biden administration is counting on concrete results from the meeting to serve as bonus for his election. 

After the meeting between two heads of state in San Francisco, Biden said the China-US agreement on limiting the export of certain chemicals from China was "critical" in stopping the flow of fentanyl into the US. He noted that the US would "verify" that China was sticking to the agreement.

Regarding the meeting in Beijing, AFP reported that Washington hopes to get China to cooperate on tackling companies that manufacture precursor chemicals to make fentanyl and on cutting financing for the trade.

The US' condescending attitude will do no good for two countries' cooperation on drug control, Sun Chenghao, head of US-EU program at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times. He said that US inability to control the drugs trade is the direct cause of its fentanyl crisis. 

China's recent agreement to engage in talks is not only a gesture of goodwill but also a favor to the US in its efforts to combat the drug crisis. However, instead of mudslinging at China, the US should focus on enhancing its own governance, according to Sun.

The US should show sincerity and revoke its sanctions on Chinese companies and entities, which the US accused of "importing the chemicals" to make fentanyl, Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. "This should be the first step of building trust."

In October 2023, the Biden administration announced a series of indictments and sanctions against Chinese companies and executives blamed for importing the chemicals used to make the drug.

However, the US lifted sanctions on a lab under China's Ministry of Public Security by removing it from the "Commerce Entity List" in November. It was put on a sanctions list in 2020.

Beyond zero-sum game

Chinese experts said that the US' futile efforts to scapegoat China and recklessly crack down on China over fentanyl issue should teach Washington a lesson: that peaceful negotiation with China is the only way out.

The discussion in Wang Yi's meeting with Sullivan covered areas ranging from bilateral relations to counternarcotics and artificial intelligence. From this we can see that China and US have so many areas in which to cooperate, thus it is over-simplistic for the US to view China as only a competitor, Sun said. 

Apart from Wang-Sullivan meeting, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao held a telephone conversation with US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo earlier this month. The two sides conducted in-depth and pragmatic communication on economic and trade issues of respective concern, with a focus on the implementation of the important consensus reached between the two heads of state at the San Francisco meeting.

Recently, China and the US have engaged in intensive communication in various fields, which is happening at a critical turning point in the bilateral relationship. This should send a signal to some Washington politicians that the China-US relationship can move beyond a zero-sum game,  Li said.

He believes that this year's US election may bring more uncertainty to the bilateral relationship, and maintaining communication in various fields and cooperation on specific issues will help mitigate the impact of domestic politics in the US on the China-US relationship.