Secretary Blinken Engages with Beijing on Counternarcotics This Week

April 26, 2024 By Jack Berson and Alexis-Clair Roehrich

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in China this week – his second visit in less than a year – meeting with senior officials to further the commitments made by Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping at the Woodside Summit last November on counternarcotics cooperation. In the face of strategic competition and mounting global challenges, this is one critical area where the U.S. and China seem to be making inroads.

» See USGLC’s Latest Issue Brief: Combatting the Rise of Fentanyl and Synthetic Drugs through U.S. Foreign Policy

Across the United States, synthetic drugs are the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18-49 today and more than 40% of Americans know someone who died from an opioid overdose. As a result, the United States is leveraging its civilian tools of diplomacy and development to tackle this crisis head on and coordinate with partners around the world – including Mexico and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – to stop the flow of illicit drugs in the U.S.

The U.S. is not the only country facing a rise in use, addiction, and overdose death from synthetic drugs. At the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Secretary Blinken said, “From tramadol in Africa, to fake Captagon pills in the Middle East, to ketamine and amphetamine in Asia…this is a problem that no one country can solve alone.”

To spur global action, the United States launched the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats in 2023. This U.S.-led international effort to combat the threats posed by synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, and the strain it is creating on health resources, includes 151 countries and 14 international organizations. China, however, has abstained from joining the group – worrisome considering some estimates that more than 90% of the fentanyl in the U.S. is produced with precursor chemicals manufactured in China. Notably, in January 2024, the U.S. and China launched the U.S.-PRC Counternarcotics Working Group to drive ongoing coordination to tackle the illicit production, financing, and distribution of illicit drugs, and to support bilateral enforcement actions.

Building on this progress, the trends all point to the seriousness and urgency that both countries feel in getting this right. Global cooperation, including with nontraditional partners, is critical to save lives around the world.

» See USGLC’s Latest Issue Brief: Combatting the Rise of Fentanyl and Synthetic Drugs through U.S. Foreign Policy