Mon. Sep 25th, 2023

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

July 24, 2023

The US-China relation is termed as the most consequential relation of the world. Of course, this important relation is complex and has many dimensions. Probably no one human being in the world has the infinite wisdom to single-handedly re-set the relationship. Conventional politicians and bureaucratic will only make the relation more difficult, because they tend to focus on too big pictures or bogged down by relatively inconsequential details.

The following reports exemplify a general dilemma for the Biden Administration. Morally, Biden has voiced to the world that “human rights” is a cornerstone of his administration. It is a major ingredient of his “theology of US global leadership.” He and his deputies will promote “human right” everywhere and every time.

On the domestic front, Biden is focused on protecting lives against violences. Of course, Biden like any other US presidents before him, is completely powerless against gun violences. So, the next domestic challenge that Biden focus on is the so called “opioid crisis” in the US. It is really a US domestic tragedy that many people, young and old, die every year.

According to Mr. Miller, spokesperson of the State Department: “fentanyl that has killed millions and millions of Americans – and continues to kill Americans to this day.” His point was working with the Chinese “on stopping the flow of precursor chemicals from China to Mexico, where they’re then turned into fentanyl.”

In turn, China has requested the US for lifting some relevant sanction on Chinese institutions that was imposed by the US on the ground of human rights abuse. However, the US seems to be stuck between the Chinese human rights vs the massive opioid related deaths in US. The issue is simple: where are the human rights of those US citizens suffering and dying every day because of fentanyl?

U.S. Weighs Potential Deal With China on Fentanyl

Beijing has demanded the U.S. lift restrictions on a police forensics institute said by Washington to have facilitated human-rights abuses

By Brian Spegele and Charles Hutzler

WSJ: July 24, 2023 9:30 am ET

The Biden administration is discussing lifting sanctions on a Chinese police forensics institute suspected of participating in human-rights abuses, people familiar with the matter said, in a bid to secure Beijing’s renewed cooperation in fighting the fentanyl crisis.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken during meetings in Beijing last month proposed setting up a new working group with China to try to resuscitate stalled talks on combating fentanyl. Chinese officials, however, stuck to their long-held position that the U.S. must first remove the sanctions on the police institute as a precondition for restarting joint counternarcotics work, the people familiar said.

Stopping the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. is a Biden administration priority, with the opioid scourge unleashing a wave of deaths across America. U.S. officials see China as having a critical role in that effort. Chinese companies produce chemicals, known as precursors, that are shipped to cartels in Mexico, which use them to produce fentanyl and smuggle it into the U.S.

Given the stakes, the U.S. is trying to figure out how to elicit China’s cooperation and the police institute has become a hurdle.

The working group was supposed to be part of a phased approach to break the impasse, the people said. Within that channel, the people said, China was expected to lay out its plans to work with the U.S. on the drug fight, while the U.S. would reconsider its restrictions on the institute.

Chinese officials “haven’t agreed to anything yet, and we are a little stalled on where to go,” one of the people familiar said.

Amid the wide-ranging, divisive strains in U.S.-China relations, fentanyl was an issue, along with climate change, that the Biden administration identified as an area of potential for cooperation with Beijing. The inability to move ahead shows the level of distrust between the two powers, despite the Blinken trip and several other high-level meetings intended to improve relations.

The Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science had its access to U.S. technology strictly limited three years ago for what the Trump administration said was its role in a campaign of mass surveillance and widespread human-rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs and other minority groups in China’s far western Xinjiang region. China denies the allegations of abuses in Xinjiang, and has told the U.S. that the sanctions are also undermining its ability to access U.S. equipment for counternarcotics work.

Chinese officials have been firm with the U.S. for months that removing the police institute from the export blacklist is a precondition for restarting joint work to combat drugs, the people said. China froze counternarcotics cooperation with the U.S. nearly a year ago in protest of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which China viewed as a provocation.

China maintains the U.S. is seeking to deflect blame for the crisis and that Washington hasn’t done enough to control prescription drugs, choke off domestic demand for illegal ones and raise public awareness of the issue. More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2022, according to a federal estimate released in May, roughly in line with 2021 levels but significantly above those just a few years earlier.

Still, the Biden administration’s consideration of the issue marks a potential U.S. concession to China in an attempt to make progress on one of the president’s domestic priorities. Any move to lift export restrictions on a Chinese government agency deemed to have participated in suspected widespread human-rights abuses in Xinjiang risks a backlash in Washington.

The Biden administration is under pressure from Congress to deal with the fentanyl crisis, with some lawmakers urging the U.S. military be enlisted to smash the cartels.

Asked about the forensics institute, China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t comment directly on recent discussions with the U.S. But it reiterated its calls for Washington to lift the sanctions.

“If the U.S. genuinely wants to resolve its domestic drug problem, then it should respect the facts, withdraw the sanctions, and stop smearing and scapegoating,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Chinese officials say the institute’s blacklisting has had an impact on China’s ability to fight drug trafficking. The forensics institute and China’s National Narcotics Laboratory are located at the same address. Because of that, Chinese officials have told their U.S. counterparts that the narcotics lab is also struggling to get access to the equipment it needs to do its work, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

Before Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the U.S. had seen some success in getting China to work with it on counternarcotics. In 2019, Beijing announced it was strictly controlling the entire class of fentanyl-related drugs, in response to pressure by the Trump administration.

China frequently cites this action as a show of goodwill toward the U.S. Since then, Washington has only further ramped up pressure on China on a range of issues, elevating hostilities between the countries.

One issue that could still derail efforts to rekindle counternarcotics cooperation is stepped-up U.S. legal efforts against Chinese nationals who prosecutors allege are involved in the fentanyl precursor trade. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department said two Chinese nationals had been expelled from Fiji and arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration for their suspected role in one such precursor operation.

Beijing has sharply criticized the move. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson called it a form of arbitrary detention by the U.S. and it made a formal diplomatic complaint with the U.S.

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