Beijing on Thursday dismissed a US Congressional report that blamed Chinese "labs" of exploiting flaws in the US mailing system to ship illegal opioid fentanyl into the country. Rejecting the blame raised by the US report, the Chinese Foreign Ministry asserted Beijing’s commitment to law enforcement with the US while also calling for international cooperation against cross-border drug-related crimes.
his file photo taken on October 17, 2017 shows Justice Department and law enforcement officials as they announce indictments to stop fentanyl and other opiate substances from entering the US during a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.
“Anti-drug cooperation is one of the highlights of China-US law enforcement cooperation. In recent years, the two sides have conducted some highly effective cooperation on cracking down on cross-border drug-related crimes and advancing psychoactive substance listing and control, which has won wide approval from the public of the two sides,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing on Thursday.
China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying addresses a press conference on January 25, 2018.
“China's attitude on this issue is very clear. We stand ready to deepen cooperation with the US side, strengthen anti-drug communication and coordination, positively and effectively address this issue together with the international community to ensure peace and security of the whole world,” she added.
Earlier on Wednesday, a US Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs investigations subcommittee, following a year-long probe, unveiled a report that claimed Chinese opioid manufacturers were exploiting lapses in the US Postal Service (USPS) to ship large quantities of the addictive drugs to American dealers. The report recommended the USPS to step up its use of high-tech detection methods to fight the problem.
The investigation – led by Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Senator Tom Carper of Delaware – reportedly found that there is easy access for buyers in the US to purchase the deadly fentanyl through the Internet. The drugs are mailed by “labs” in China to individuals who consume them or to middlemen who dilute them for resale, the report claimed without divulging the names of a single lab.
Reuters quoted staff of the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee as saying that the probe focused on six “very responsive” providers in China. The result was the identification of 500 online transactions involving fentanyl, mainly in powder form, with a street value of about 766 million US dollars.
The Congressional report blamed the USPS for failing to adequately deploy a system to capture advanced electronic data (AED) about packages destined for American ports, which would help identify suspicious mail to be turned over to US Customs and Border Protection agents.
A box of the Fentanyl-based drug Subsys, made by Insys Therapeutics Inc, is seen in an undated photograph provided by the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Alabama.
The USPS, in a statement said it was “working aggressively with law enforcement and key trading partners to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States.” The statement added that the USPS is “prioritizing obtaining AED from the largest volume foreign posts, which collectively account for over 90 percent of inbound volumes.”
US opioid crisis: A public health emergency
US fatalities linked to opioids including fentanyl have been rising dramatically and totaled more than 66,000 in the year ending May 2017, Associated Press reported, citing data from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online sales from China tracked by the Senate investigators were linked to seven confirmed synthetic opioid-related deaths in the US, according to a Reuters report.
US President Donald Trump (C) is applauded by lawmakers after signing the Markey Bill to combat opioid trafficking at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2018.
The report quoted investigators as saying that the Chinese sellers preferred to ship the fentanyl using Express Mail Service, which operated worldwide through each country’s postal operations, including the USPS.
Last October, US President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis in his country as a public health emergency. Earlier this month, Trump
signed the bipartisan Markey Bill into law to give border patrol agents better tools to detect and stop the smuggling of fentanyl into the US.
The issue also figured in Trump’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the US president’s visit to Beijing last November.
“Every year drug trafficking destroys millions and millions of lives,” Trump said in Beijing, standing next to Xi at the end of formal talks between the two. “Today President Xi and I 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,” he added.
“A special emphasis will be placed on the new phenomenon – fentanyl – destroying lives by the millions. We’re going to be focusing on it very strongly, the president and myself,” Trump said, without elaborating.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later told the media that Trump and Xi agreed to take new steps. “On the critical issue of opioids, we made some good progress to curb the flow of harmful narcotics into the United States in order to save American lives,” he said.
“The president (Xi) committed to taking new actions including agreements to control the export and movement of fentanyl precursors, sharing intelligence on drug trafficking, and exchanging trafficking information,” he added.
China steps up crack down on illegal drugs
China’s drug control agency has disputed the US claim that most of the fentanyl at the heart of the US opioid crisis was sourced from China.
“China doesn’t deny that shipments to the US happen, but there isn’t the proof to show how much – whether it’s 20 percent or 80 percent,” Yu Haibin of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) told reporters last month, adding that US authorities have only sent him information about six shipments from China in the past year.
Yu urged the US to share more data and police intelligence with Chinese authorities and said rampant over-prescription of pain medication and lax cultural attitudes toward drugs had fueled massive demand for opioids in the US. “As many states decriminalize marijuana, the public’s attitudes and trends of thinking toward drugs will also have a bad effect [on the fight against hard drugs],” he said.
Despite the difference over the US claims, Beijing has increased cooperation with Washington in its fight to contain the opioid epidemic. China has taken measures to crack down on the production and export of synthetic drugs, and last year it backed a successful US proposal to add several fentanyl precursors to a UN list of controlled substances.
Since 2016, China has arrested dozens of synthetic drug exporters, destroyed several illegal labs and seized tons of new psychoactive substances, Associated Press reported citing NNCC figures. China wanted to work more closely with US law enforcement, as well as authorities in Mexico, a transshipment point, Yu said.