China rejects US economic sanctions over fentanyl crisis: ‘They are trying to blame us for their own problems’

Beijing condemns the inclusion of 17 Chinese companies and individuals in the Treasury Department’s ‘blacklist’ through the US Embassy in Mexico, one day after López Obrador called for a ‘truce’

A man prepares a dose of fentanyl in Tijuana.
A man prepares a dose of fentanyl in Tijuana.Gladys Serrano

Tensions between China and the United States over the fentanyl crisis continue to escalate. On Thursday, Beijing expressed its “dissatisfaction” and “firm opposition” following the inclusion of 17 Chinese individuals and companies on the Treasury Department’s so-called “blacklist.” The message of rejection came through the Chinese embassy in Mexico, just a day after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for “a truce” between the world powers and insisted that cooperation against drug trafficking should prevail over the exchange of reproaches and accusations. “The U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals and has attempted to blame China for its own problem with fentanyl, with the intention to mislead the public and deflect the blame for its inaction,” the diplomatic representation said in a statement.

Washington unveiled a new wave of economic sanctions this week, arguing that China is the at the center of synthetic drug manufacturing and as part of a strategy to weaken the financial structures of Mexican cartel suppliers. The punishments are focused on companies that deal in pill presses and other equipment that allow criminal groups to create “pirated versions” of drugs adulterated with fentanyl. “Smuggled pills tainted with fentanyl are the leading cause of overdose deaths, devastating thousands of American families each year,” said Brian E. Nelson, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. The White House warned that it would not back down and would use “all means at its disposal” to attack the drug supply chain.

“Unilateral sanctions will not solve the U.S.’s own problems, and will only put more obstacles in the way of cooperation,” Beijing countered. Xi Jinping’s government asserted that it would defend the legitimate interests of its citizens and said that the illegal use of the products was the importer’s responsibility. “A knife can be used to cut vegetables or to kill a person. If one person attacks another with a knife, who should be held accountable? The one who used the knife or the one who made it? The answer is clear,” Mao Ning, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told a news conference on Wednesday.

One of the main difficulties in combating fentanyl is that it can be made from everyday equipment and substances, and that there are dozens of different recipes to manufacture it. Under debate are the limits of regulation and who is responsible for the illegal uses of traded products. Last weekend, the Chinese Embassy in Mexico issued another statement in which it described the alleged link between the Chinese pharmaceutical industry, one of the largest in the world, and Mexican drug cartels as “a Hollywood movie-style plot.”

López Obrador was optimistic just a day earlier. “There is a very positive attitude on the part of the Chinese government. We have been asking China for collaboration because the raw material for fentanyl comes from Asia — we are not going to say China— from Asia,” the Mexican president emphasized. In the midst of the clashes he has had with several political sectors in the United States, the president has exchanged correspondence with Chinese authorities in recent months, in an attempt to put the claims behind him and address the problem between the countries involved. Beijing has insisted that the problem is “made in the U.S.A.” and has nothing to do with global drug trafficking.

“China attaches the utmost importance to its anti-drug cooperation with Mexico,” the Embassy said, adding that the joint work was “excellent” and “professional.” In last weekend’s statement, Beijing condemned “the United States bullying Mexico under the pretext of the fentanyl issue” and expressed its support for the defense of the Latin American country’s “sovereignty and dignity.”

In early May, the Mexican Navy seized a suspicious shipment that had passed through the Korean port of Busan and the Chinese city of Qingdao, which López Obrador hailed as proof that Mexico does not manufacture drugs, but, rather, that it is a transit country. China said it was open to laboratory tests being done to confirm whether the substance involved was fentanyl so as to follow up on that case. Everything indicates that the “truce” will have to wait.

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