US says nations should engage China in curbing synthetic drugs

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The US wants other countries to engage China on limiting the flow of synthetic drugs, the State Department’s top official on narcotics said on Thursday, as Washington complains of a lack of cooperation from Beijing to combat illegal trade in the dangerous substances.

On the eve of a US-led conference on the issue, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Todd Robinson said China needed to do more to disrupt illicit synthetic drug supply chains, but that it was still unclear if China would join the meeting.

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“We’ve invited China. We don’t have any indication at the moment that they’re going to participate,” Robinson told reporters on a call, adding that though Beijing “had not engaged” with US officials on the issue in recent months, Washington still actively sought its help.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday will host the first virtual meeting of at least 84 countries to set up a “global coalition” to combat synthetic drugs, part of a Biden administration policy to curb the highly addictive painkiller fentanyl that has fueled the country’s opioid crisis.

“This isn’t about blame, and this isn’t about pressure,” Robinson said.

“Part of the reason we’re trying to bring this coalition together is to engage other countries in their efforts against the supply chain, and part of their responsibility is going to be engaging with the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” he said.

China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting.

China is a major producer of the chemicals that are required to create fentanyl, which is frequently smuggled over the US-Mexico border.

At a time when relations between the geopolitical rivals have deteriorated, China has not been helpful in cracking down on the flow of fentanyl precursor chemicals or on money laundering related to trafficking, according to US officials.

Beijing has said Washington should stop using the fentanyl crisis as a pretext to impose sanctions on Chinese companies, and Chinese state media have repeatedly said addiction and demand for the drug are US domestic problems.

Almost 80,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The US Justice Department in June filed criminal charges against four Chinese chemical manufacturing companies and eight people over allegations they illegally trafficked the chemicals used to make fentanyl.

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