Schumer Seeks New Bipartisan Sanctions Against China over Fentanyl

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
July 17, 2023Politics

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is seeking bipartisan support to impose new sanctions against China over its role in bringing fentanyl to the United States.

Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid that is 50–100 times more powerful than morphine. While its potency has made it a popular and cheap additive in other street drugs, it has also greatly raised the risk of overdoses, contributing to tens of thousands of deaths in the United States. According to a June report by the U.S. Center For Disease Control and Prevention, there were 70,601 overdose deaths linked to non-Methadone synthetic opioids, with fentanyl being a primary source for these deaths.

Mr. Schumer said much of the fentanyl that is currently in the United States comes from production sites in China “with the total acceptance and acquiescence of the Chinese government.”

At a press conference on Sunday, Mr. Schumer said he would support adding an amendment to the annual defense budget, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), that would declare the prevalence of fentanyl in the United States to be a national emergency and to sanction the Chinese communist regime for its contribution to this emergency.

“I will push an amendment—bipartisan—into the defense bill that will include major fentanyl stopping- and sanction-empowering legislation, and we will bring that bill to the floor this week,” he said. “I hope it will pass. I believe that will pass with strong bipartisan support. And it should. It must.”

The spread of fentanyl in the United States has been a topic of concern among both Democrats and Republicans in recent years. Mr. Schumer has already worked with Republicans in the past to raise sanctions against China over its role in the U.S. fentanyl problem.

Mr. Schumer said this newest sanctions push would be based on legislation proposed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Earlier this year, Mr. Scott introduced the Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence (FEND) Off Fentanyl Act with support from Mr. Brown. Sixty-one other senators have co-sponsored the FEND Off Fentanyl Act.

“This will really get tough with them and we will make them clamp down on the fentanyl coming to the United States,” the Democratic Senate leader said.

China’s Role in Fentanyl Trafficking

A 2020 report (pdf) by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) describes China as “the primary source of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked through international mail and express consignment operations environment, as well as the main source for all fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States.” Still, it’s unclear precisely what percentage of the fentanyl in the United States comes from Chinese sources, as much of it arrives in Mexico as precursor chemicals before being brought across the border.

While the Chinese regime has reportedly been more strictly regulating fentanyl and its precursors since 2017, according to the 2020 DEA report, Chinese fentanyl traffickers appeared to reroute their supply lines through India as a way to circumvent Chinese regulations. According to Brookings Institution research Vanda Felbab-Brown, the Chinese regime doesn’t always strictly enforce its regulations on fentanyl and has even lowered its efforts amid increased tensions with the United States in recent years.

“China subordinates its counternarcotics cooperation to its geostrategic relations,” Ms. Felbab-Brown said in a March 23 congressional hearing. “As the relationship between the two countries deteriorated, China’s willingness to cooperate with the United States declined. Since 2020, China’s cooperation with U.S. counternarcotics efforts, never high, declined substantially. In August 2022, China officially announced that it suspended all counternarcotics and law enforcement cooperation with the United States.”

Mexican authorities reported seizing a fentanyl shipment from China in May, prompting Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to call on Chinese authorities for more help stopping the flow of these drugs.

On June 23, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against four Chinese chemical companies and eight individuals allegedly involved in trafficking fentanyl precursor chemicals. Federal authorities investigated the case in coordination with investigators from Thailand and Fiji and arrested two of the individuals as they were expelled from Fiji. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by accusing the U.S. government of arbitrarily detaining two of its citizens and further harming U.S.–China relations.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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