The White House praised China for publicly sentencing a ring of nine fentanyl traffickers to prison as a “positive step” in dealing with the flow of the deadly substance from the country.
On Thursday, a Chinese court publicly sentenced nine people for smuggling fentanyl into the United States. The convictions were the result of a joint U.S.-China enforcement operation, officials from both governments announced at a Thursday press conference in the Chinese city of Xingtai. One of the perpetrators was even given a suspended death sentence.
In a Thursday press release, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director Jim Carroll praised the move by Beijing and attributed it to ongoing cooperation between the two governments.
“The concrete action taken by China is a direct result of President Trump’s strong leadership on this issue, and the personal engagement by many members of Congress in communicating our entire government’s commitment to saving American lives,” Carroll said in the release, which also notes commitments on fentanyl enforcement the president secured from Chinese officials in September. “China’s fentanyl trafficking and production prosecution is a positive step in following through on the pledge secured by President Trump.”
According to a U.S. official, the case originated from the Department of Homeland Security’s New Orleans office in 2017, when federal authorities acted on a tip about a Chinese fentanyl seller using the name “Diana.” U.S. authorities have also arrested people in Oregon and New York as part of the same case.
Relatively cheap and incredibly potent, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is often used as an additive in other illicit drugs and has become a key driver of overdose deaths in America’s ongoing drug crisis. A 2017 State Department report explains that “China is the primary source of fentanyl in the United States” and that the drug is often shipped here or shipped to Mexico and smuggled across the border. A 2017 Boston Globe story described fentanyl getting to U.S. communities through “a pipeline that often begins in China, winds through Mexico, and flows into distribution cities” in the United States.
Thursday’s convictions came months after President Donald Trump accused the east Asian country of not doing enough to address the flow of fentanyl into the United States. Back in August, Trump tweeted that his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, had failed to adequately address the flow of fentanyl from China to the U.S.
“Fentanyl kills 100,000 Americans a year,” Trump tweeted. “President Xi said this would stop – it didn’t.”
A Chinese official responded by calling Trump’s statement “groundless and untrue.”
Now there’s just the question about what Thursday’s news could mean about the state of trade talks. While a U.S. official told reporters that the case “has nothing to do with the trade war,” it nevertheless provides the Trump administration with a cooperation win that could very well bring the parties closer to an elusive “phase one” trade deal.