Cooperation between the US and China to combat the flow of fentanyl from China to the US has reached an impasse due to wider geopolitical tensions. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is responsible for tens of thousands of drug overdoses in the US annually. Efforts to curb the drug trade have been hampered by issues such as trade, human rights, Russia, and Taiwan. The US now aims to pressure China by leading a meeting of a global coalition of nations focused on combating synthetic drugs. However, China has not indicated whether it will participate in the coalition, while Mexico has committed to taking part. The issue may also be raised during meetings between the US and Chinese officials this week. In the past, China froze communication with the US on the fentanyl issue after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. While there were suggestions of cooperation between the US and China in combating fentanyl trafficking, recent indictments of Chinese companies accused of trafficking chemicals used to make fentanyl have damaged prospects of cooperation. China has accused the US of blaming it for its own drug issues and denies its own failures in combating the fentanyl epidemic. China’s stance on fentanyl reflects its frustration with what it sees as US containment efforts, and it may seek something valuable in return for cooperating on the issue. Some Chinese analysts believe US domestic politics are driving the Biden administration’s pressure on China, allowing the Republican Party to attack Democrats. Although China banned all variants of fentanyl in 2019, enforcement weakened as the US continued to impose trade tariffs. As a result, precursor chemicals were increasingly shipped to Mexico, where drug cartels manufacture and distribute fentanyl to the US. The dispute over fentanyl reflects different approaches to rivalry and cooperation between the US and China, with the Biden administration seeking to compete and cooperate simultaneously. China sees the US dictating the terms of engagement and uses cooperation as leverage to extract concessions from the US in other areas.
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