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US and Chinese officials to discuss crackdown on fentanyl ingredients

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US and Chinese officials will this week hold talks aimed at stemming the flow of chemicals from China used to make fentanyl as they implement a deal struck by President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping in November.

White House deputy homeland security adviser Jen Daskal will lead a delegation to Beijing for talks on Tuesday and Wednesday. The two sides will discuss efforts to crack down on the export of ingredients for fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid that has triggered a drug epidemic in the US.

US officials said China had already taken some positive actions since Biden and Xi agreed at a summit in San Francisco to resurrect a counter-narcotics working group that had been dormant as tensions between the countries rose to their highest level since they normalised diplomatic relations in 1979.

One US official said China had issued guidance “putting their chemical companies on notice” that Beijing would take action against groups involved in the trade of fentanyl precursors chemicals. She said Beijing had also taken action against suppliers after the Biden-Xi summit.

After Beijing cracked down on the export of fentanyl in 2019, Chinese groups shifted their focus to shipping the chemical ingredients to drug cartels in Mexico, which smuggled the finished product into the US.

In recent years, tens of thousands of Americans have died each year from overdoses of fentanyl — a topic that is expected to become an issue as Biden campaigns for re-election in November.

The US official said the Biden administration wanted China to take more independent action, in addition to responding to information provided by Washington.

“We’d like to get to a place where the PRC [People’s Republic of China] is able to themselves identify and take action with respect to bad actors or actors that are clearly acting in ways that are concerning,” said the official. “So a big ask of this trip is to encourage independent action as well.”

As of Monday, dozens of suppliers of fentanyl precursors had vanished from Made-in-China.com, a website that connects customers with Chinese manufacturers. Most of the keywords for fentanyl precursors were also unsearchable, though it returned results for one, (2-Bromoethyl) benzene.

One of the vendors supposedly still supplying the chemical said on WhatsApp that it does not ship the item. Another vendor said it could ship BMK and PMK, two precursors for amphetamine and ecstasy.

Chinese experts said Beijing hoped engaging on fentanyl would help stabilise relations in a crucial year for bilateral ties given the US election.

“American society does benefit more from this co-operation on fentanyl,” said Jie Dalei, a foreign affairs expert at Peking University. “But . . . co-operation in one area can demonstrate that the two countries can actually work together despite all of the other, more contentious issues.”

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