China’s role in the US fight against fentanyl trafficking

How the role of China can influence the US position in the fight against drug trafficking (REUTERS) (JOSHUA LOTT /)

The crisis of fentanyl in USA and Mexico It has raised the alert of officials from both countries to the maximum, who are fighting against time to stop its expansion and limit its consequences on the population.

In a recent presentation before the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Illicit Financing, and International Financial Institutions of the United States House of Representatives Vanda Felbab-Brown warned, however, that efforts should no longer be limited to dealing with the tracking of these mafias and the subsequent seizure of drug shipments but, on the contrary, should focus on a more global issue – even beyond the ocean -.

In this sense, the author of the study, Vanda Felbab-Brown, explained that one of the key players in this criminal structure is the Xi Jinping regime.

One of the main aspects that the author highlights is the fact that China subordinates its cooperation on the matter with local authorities to the bilateral geostrategic relationship. That is why, in recent times, there has been a sharp decline in Beijing’s cooperation with the United States for stopping these networks, given that diplomatic relations between the two countries have deteriorated significantly.

This decrease dates from 2020 and was fully completed in August 2022. Likewise, it was never very high, unlike the ties achieved with other countries.

Along with this lack of help, China itself also plays an important role in setting up criminal networks. For example, although you have a strong anti-narcotics diplomacy -which is in line with the trends of Southeast Asia and the Pacific- it is known that their police cooperation tends to be very selective, limited and always conditioned by their interests.

China plays an important role in the layout of criminal drug trafficking networks in Latin America (REUTERS)
China plays an important role in the layout of criminal drug trafficking networks in Latin America (REUTERS) (SPUTNIK /)

Likewise, the large corruption networks in the upper echelons of the country have led the authorities to blind eye many indications of illegal acts, so the networks manage to operate with great freedom and impunity.

Thanks to these conditions, China has become a very attractive actor for the Mexican cartels, which find mutual benefits in the alliances of the matter with Beijing. Among the main aspects of cooperation, the facilities to launder money from the main distributors of fentanyl to the United States stand out: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG).

Having a branch in Asia makes it easier for them bypass the formal US and Mexican banking systemsas well as disguise it in commercial exchanges.

However, the study exposed that – now – the networks have diversified their money laundering tactics, which makes it even more difficult for authorities to track them down. Thus, in many cases, value transfers are made with wildlife products such as protected and unprotected marine products; wood; real estate; cryptocurrencies; casinos; and even bulk cash.

Although they all carry a risk, the first ones are the ones that have denoted the worst consequences since they imply multiple threats to public health and safetythe economic sustainabilitythe food safety and the global biodiversity. Even wildlife trafficking could lead to the spread of dangerous zoonotic diseases.

One of the aspects that have been most investigated in recent times is the illegal fishing that Chinese fishing boats carry out in the waters of the American continent, mainly in the hands of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The cartels have expanded their activities to areas such as wildlife trafficking and illegal fishing (EFE)
The cartels have expanded their activities to areas such as wildlife trafficking and illegal fishing (EFE) (EFEI0499/)

In this way, the drug cartels and their allies in the world manage to infiltrate more and more in various sectors of the economy and dominate a greater range of items, while achieving greater access to intelligence data that could be of value to the Beijing regime.

Added to all this, the study stated that Mexico has turned more to being an ally of China than to really cooperating in the fight against drugs with the United States. As detailed, the crisis of March 2023 between the police cooperation of both countries would be only the tip of the iceberg of the progressive withdrawal of Mexico from the working tablewhich began in 2019 and accelerated in 2020, when the activities of the United States police on Mexican soil were undermined after the arrest of the former Secretary of Defense of Mexico, General Salvador Cienfuegos.

Faced with this delicate situation, the authorities must expand their efforts to undermine poaching, wildlife trafficking and illegal fishing, and not focus solely on drug seizures.

Furthermore, the author suggests that the United States should modify their position on the issue and address the issue with both countries from another perspective. For example, he believes that Washington should insist that China removes websites that illegally sell synthetic opioids to its population or to Mexican criminal groups and strengthen its cooperation with allies to force Beijing to comply with increased law enforcement and control.

On the other hand, it stresses that it must sanction Chinese companies that violate best practice protocols and take more action against the actors accused by Washington, while continuing to develop tactics and incentivize international partners to accuse and act seriously against the drug trafficking and criminal networks.

Based on the influence of China, the United States must modify its position in the fight against drug trafficking (AP)
Based on the influence of China, the United States must modify its position in the fight against drug trafficking (AP) (Mamta Popat /)

Along the same lines but with its neighbor Mexico, the United States should move forward with the designation of cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizationsin order to be able collect intelligence that allows them a better development of the investigations. However, this could seriously jeopardize relations with this vital trading partner, so they should proceed cautiously and insist on other adjacent issues like the border inspections or the development of new influence packs.

Finally, within its own system, the Joe Biden administration should take a government-wide approach to fentanyl smuggling, as well as consider nature crimes as part of this fight.

Keep reading:

How fentanyl went from being a drug to the most popular and deadly drug of the moment

Fentanyl triggers overdose rates: the increase in consumption on the US-Mexico border

What is fentanyl, the deadly drug advancing from China