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US, China to hold high-level talks on anti-narcotics cooperation

By Thomson Reuters Jun 20, 2024 | 12:23 AM

By Antoni Slodkowski

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States and China were set to hold high-level talks on anti-narcotics cooperation on Thursday, following a breakthrough in bilateral work this week that saw them jointly go after a major drug-linked money laundering operation.

The U.S. and China restarted talks on counter-narcotics and law enforcement cooperation at the start of the year and China’s public security department lauded the case as a successful example of anti-drug cooperation between the two superpowers.

The U.S. Justice Department alleged this week that Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel conspired with groups based in California and tied to Chinese underground banking to launder drug-trafficking proceeds of more than $50 million.

The Justice Department said it closely coordinated with law enforcement in Mexico and China. Chinese state media said China arrested the suspect in the case, adding it involved criminal activities including the illegal trading of foreign exchange.

The United States, where fentanyl abuse has been a major cause of death, has pushed for deeper law enforcement cooperation, including tackling illicit finance and further controls on the chemicals that can be used to make fentanyl.

Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was expected to meet high level Chinese officials to discuss the cooperation on Thursday, Chinese state media said.

Ties between the two countries have been tense in recent years over a range of issues including the origins of COVID-19, trade tariffs, Taiwan and human rights, hampering Washington’s hopes of persuading China to re-join its efforts to stop the flow of fentanyl into the United States.

In November 2019, in an unusual disclosure of Sino-U.S. cooperation in cracking down on fentanyl crimes, Chinese and U.S. law enforcement jointly announced that they had worked together to break up a smuggling ring.

But such cooperation fizzled out when COVID-19 arrived, and geopolitical headwinds pushed bilateral ties to their lowest in decades – until the November summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping led to a thaw and the resumption of anti-narcotics talks.

In an interview with state broadcaster CGTN, deputy secretary general of China National Narcotics Control Commission Yu Haibin reiterated China’s position that the U.S. was to blame for creating the fentanyl problem due to “its own misuse of prescription drugs”.

But he added that “China is willing to offer full support in terms of material control, intelligence sharing, law enforcement and combating transnational crimes.”

He said that currently the two countries “are conducting joint investigations in several cases – which will have a significant deterrent effect on criminals involved in drug-related activities in both China and the United States.”

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Michael Perry)