China announces new crackdown on fentanyl

The Chinese government will add fentanyl-related substances to their list of controlled drugs from May 1, in a move aimed at curtailing the manufacturing and distribution of one of the world’s most powerful opioids.

The new laws are likely to be interpreted as win for US President Donald Trump, who has taken a strong stance against fentanyl and was full of praise for China in December 2018 when President Xi Jinping first agreed to the move.

“This could be a game changer on what is considered to be the worst and most dangerous, addictive and deadly substance of them all,” Trump posted on Twitter at the time.

An extremely powerful synthetic drug, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin.

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl was used in one in four overdose deaths in the US in 2018, killing just over 18,000 people in one year and overtaking heroin and oxycodone as the country’s most deadly drug.

On Monday, China’s Ministry of Public Security, National Health Commission and the National Medical Products Administration came together to make the announcement at a press conference in Beijing.

Liu Yuejin, deputy head of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, called the move a “major innovative measure” in the country’s contribution to the global war on drugs.

The top anti-narcotics official said the new regulation would prevent drug labs from evading the law by simply tweaking chemical structures of their products.

Liu stressed that China would enforce its laws “even more comprehensively” after the latest announcement and “bring violators to justice without mercy.”

But John Pomfret, author of “The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, from 1776 to the Present,” said although it was positive news, it remained to be seen just how seriously the laws would be enforced.

“China needs to crack down on the production of Fentanyl precursors, too, and there’s been no movement on that front yet. Still, this is an important step in the right direction,” he said.

US opioid crisis

China banned the manufacture and sale of four types of fentanyl in March 2017 and later expanded the list to 25 types, but the Trump administration had been pushing for a wider ban to slow the flow of the deadly drug into the US.

In August 2018, Trump accused China of being behind the US’ opioid crisis, claiming fentanyl was “pouring into the US postal system.” In October, Trump signed into law sweeping legislation to curb the epidemic, pouring billions of dollars of funding into treatment and prevention.

Chinese authorities have long stressed their close cooperation with US partners to crack down on the shipping of fentanyl, including the installation of thousands of security check machines.

On Monday, Liu denied Washington’s accusation that China was the primary source for fentanyl substances in the US, pointing a finger at US domestic issues ranging from over-prescription of painkillers to the powerful pharmaceutical lobby.

“I think if the US really wants to resolve its fentanyl problem, it must strengthen its domestic measures,” he said. “The US especially needs to strengthen its anti-drug education to reduce the demand for fentanyl … instead of blindly blaming other countries.”

The Chinese official expressed “regret” over recent US indictments on several Chinese nationals for their roles in distributing fentanyl in the US, calling such unilateral moves “harmful to a cooperative atmosphere.”

Beijing first agreed to make all variations of fentanyl a controlled substance during trade talks between Trump and Xi in early December on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina.

The primary purpose of the meeting was to avoid further escalations in the raging trade war between Washington and Beijing, which has seen billions of dollars of tariffs placed on US and Chinese goods.

The announcement of a starting date for the new laws comes amid ongoing trade talks between the two countries, which have raised hopes of a potential deal to lift tariffs and ease tensions. Chinese officials declined to link the two issues at Monday’s press conference.

Trump and Xi are expected to meet again to sign an eventual agreement in the coming months.