Talks on curbing fentanyl trade come after years of deterioration in relations on issues including COVID-19, human rights and Taiwan.
The United States and China have launched a joint anti-narcotics group to curb the production and trade of the highly addictive opioid fentanyl in the first sign of cooperation between the superpowers since bilateral relations soured.
The talks began on Tuesday after a US delegation led by Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Jen Daskal arrived in Beijing for the first joint meeting.
At a summit in November Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden agreed to do more to cooperate on tackling companies that manufacture the precursor chemicals to make fentanyl and on cutting financing for the trade.
Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin. The US has said China is the primary source of the precursor chemicals synthesised into fentanyl by drug cartels in Mexico. China has denied the US claim.
The working group is seen as a positive development amid a deterioration in relations between the two countries over issues including human rights, trade tariffs, COVID-19 and Taiwan.
“We had in-depth communication and were pragmatic. We reached common understanding on the work plan for the working group,” China’s minister of public security, Wang Xiaohong, told the group.
Daskal underscored that “synthetic drugs are killing so many thousands of people” and the “significant” delegation sent by the White House highlights “the importance of this issue to the American people”.
More than 100,000 people died from drug overdose deaths in the US in 2022, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), including an estimated 82,998 opioid-involved drug overdose deaths.
‘Gains from cooperation’
Wang said the establishment of the China-US working group represented an “important common understanding” reached by the presidents last year.
“Our cooperation once again shows that the China-US relationship gains from cooperation and loses from confrontation,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
He hoped future meetings would see two sides “accommodating each other’s concerns to enhance and expand cooperation to provide more positive energy for stable, sound and sustainable China-US relations”, he added.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the past previously described China as “the main source for all fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States”.
In October, Washington imposed sanctions and launched indictments against dozens of Chinese companies and individuals it claims are involved in the illegal trade of fentanyl.
Beijing has denied complicity in the deadly trade, touting its “zero tolerance” drug policies and insisting the roots of the addiction crisis lie in the US.