China Says U.S. Is Using Fentanyl Feud as Political Weapon

(Bloomberg) -- In the shadow of the broader trade war between China and the U.S., a parallel battle is heating up between the two countries over America’s opioid crisis.

The sparring accelerated on Friday, with China’s narcotics regulator accusing the U.S. of politicizing the issue of illicit Chinese exports of fentanyl and using it as a weapon against the Asian country.

Liu Yuejin, deputy head of the National Narcotics Control Commission, rebutted accusations from the U.S. that China is not doing enough to curb the flow of fentanyl, a highly addictive opioid painkiller, beyond its borders. Some American politicians “are up-ending the facts for their own political necessities,” Liu said in an interview in Beijing on Friday.

The comments come just weeks after President Donald Trump lashed out at his Chinese counterpart in a tweet, saying Xi Jinping hadn’t stopped the flow of Chinese-made fentanyl as promised, and citing this failure as one reason that another 10% tariff would be levied on $300 billion of Chinese exports on Sept. 1.

In a series of new tweets on Friday, Trump said that he would order U.S. shipping companies to search for and reject any packages containing fentanyl, from China or any other country.

FedEx Corp. already has extensive security measures to prevent the use of its network for illegal purposes, the company said in a statement. United Parcel Service Inc. said it works closely with authorities to monitor for prohibited substances, and takes a “multi-layered” approach to prevent such shipments. Amazon.com Inc. didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Postal Service said it’s “aggressively working” to implement provisions of an existing law to keep illicit drugs from entering the U.S.

As an example of facts being twisted by the U.S., Liu cited three Chinese nationals whom the U.S. issued economic sanctions against earlier this week for allegedly producing and trafficking fentanyl. Liu said Chinese authorities have been closely cooperating with their American counterparts on the issue of the three men, but that the individuals’ actions occurred before China’s tightening of its laws regulating the drug in April.

“It was hard to prosecute them with the law at that time and U.S. enforcement knows this very clearly,” he said. “Some U.S. politicians refuse to face the reality, upend the facts, turn black into white and muddy clear water. And they mislead Americans who may not know the truth.“

Fentanyl has played a role in the opioid epidemic that’s been blamed for thousands of overdose deaths in the U.S. and been declared a public health emergency. It’s also been an issue in trade war negotiations. Last year, China’s move to tighten supervision and revise rules around fentanyl production after the two presidents met at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina was talked up by Trump as a major concession.

But earlier this month, he tweeted that “my friend President Xi said that he would stop the sale of Fentanyl to the United States – this never happened, and many Americans continue to die!”

The three Chinese nationals, Zheng Fujing, Zheng Guanghua and Yan Xiaobing, were added to the U.S. Treasury’s “Specially Designated Nationals List” early last week for running what the agency said was “an international drug trafficking operation that manufactures and sells lethal narcotics, directly contributing to the crisis of opioid addiction, overdoses and death in the U.S.” The move allows the government to freeze their U.S.-based financial assets.

“These actions by the U.S. are not constructive and will hurt the good relationship between the two countries’ law enforcement organs,” said Liu. He added that China is still open to working with the U.S. on the fentanyl problem.

China has repeatedly pushed back against the U.S. claim that it is responsible for the fentanyl problem, arguing that the epidemic is due to the U.S.’s own lax regulation over the prescription of addictive opioids to patients. Liu pointed out that China doesn’t have a domestic opioid abuse issue because of its strict regulation over the use of painkillers.

--With assistance from John Liu and Ben Brody.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Dong Lyu in Beijing at dlyu3@bloomberg.net;Tom Mackenzie in Beijing at tmackenzie5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rachel Chang at wchang98@bloomberg.net, Jeff Sutherland, Timothy Annett

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