pixellated blue-tone world map with connection lines Opioids emerge as key sticking point for US-China trade deal

Where they got stuck: US Law Enforcement believes much of the illicit fentanyl in the United States comes from China, often through the mails. China has offered only resolute denials. It’s come up in discussions and gone absolutely nowhere. Now we may be seeing a shift.

The arrest and trial of 9 Chinese citizens after a joint operation involving both nations has been openly acknowledged. For the first time, and hopefully not the last.

What triggered the change? Possibly this LA Times article on the rising number of fatalities from fentanyl that had been traced to Chinese sources:

Fentanyl smuggled from China is killing thousands of Americans

Can you imagine the frantic phone conversation between the leaders of the two world powers? “Look man, the press is killin’ me. You gotta help me out. I’ll make it up to ya somehow.” From now on, looks like illicit Chinese fentanyl will be a bargaining chip in the ongoing US-China trade negotiations.

Voter perception and the fear of a public relations black eye are always a motivator in politics. A quote attributed to the late Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois: “When I feel the heat, that’s when I see the light.” I accept that as reality, but I wish government was as responsive to scientific research as it is to bad publicity in the popular media.

So, will increased attention from Chinese authorities lead to significant reductions in the US fentanyl supply? Right now, the answer appears to be “sort of, but possibly no”. The DEA confirms that when the Chinese have cracked down in the past, the chemical river has in fact slowed down some. Later on, the flow resumed. That suggests an inconsistency of commitment.

And in past months the Mexican cartels have jumped into the fentanyl market with both feet. They’re now pushing product in its original form and as an additive to other popular drugs of abuse– heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription sedatives, etc. I imagine cartel scientists are hard at work even now, intent on refining the production of fentanyl.

And the cartels have a much larger distribution network in North America than the Chinese.

Question: so how much has China’s official position on fentanyl smuggling actually changed? Perhaps not as much as hoped. Here’s a quote from a high-ranking official: “China’s control of fentanyl has become more strict, but the number of deaths in the US from fentanyl have risen. This shows that China is not the source of the problem.“

Sounds like plausible deniability to me. Which suggests they’re not done playing politics.

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