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On Tuesday, October 3rd of this year, the Biden administration announced sanctions against 25 individuals and entities from China for their role in facilitating the illegal fentanyl trade in the United States. Among those charged, 12 were executives who benefited from the trade and eight were Chinese companies involved in producing the chemical components that are vital to fentanyl production. Chinese officials in the foreign ministry have responded with derision towards the U.S.’s actions, denouncing the sanctions and pressure imposed as ineffective and only serving to harm U.S.-China cooperation on drug control and arguing that the fentanyl crisis is a domestic issue for the U.S..

According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. and China have cooperated in the past on combating the illegal fentanyl trade. In particular, Hong Kong has often served as a key nexus for the international distribution of fentanyl. In 2018, the HKSAR government updated drug laws and regulations to more capably control what are known as “fentanyl precursors” or chemical components that are used to produce fentanyl, and the Chinese government decided in 2019 to classify all forms of fentanyl as a class of drugs, which allows for more governmental oversight and control.


The U.S. and China have had a history of cooperation when it comes to the regulation and crack down on illicit drugs and narcotics production and distribution networks; however, this cooperation may be threatened by growing U.S.-China tensions, especially as China reacts negatively to U.S. attempts to hold Chinese drug trafficking entities accountable.

In general, Chinese enforcement of drug laws has been “highly selective, self-serving, limited, and subordinated to its geopolitical interests,” in part because of China’s desire to use drug enforcement cooperation as a bargaining chip when dealing with other countries, as well as the political connections of drug-trafficking criminal organizations to authorities in mainland China and Hong Kong.

Though these prosecutions are likely to fall short because of U.S. domestic law enforcement authorities’ limited ability to prosecute Chinese nationals, Congress is considering multiple pieces of legislation, such as the NDAAFY2024 which included the FEND Off Fentanyl Act (H.R. 3333 and S. 1271) and the Stop Chinese Fentanyl Act of 2023 (H.R. 3203). There is also the Strengthening Sanctions on Fentanyl Traffickers Act of 2023 (S. 2059) and the Project Precursor Act (H.R. 3205), which will strengthen U.S. drug enforcement capabilities.



As Hong Kong is seeing a devastating increase in political persecution, we will continue to pave the way to a free Hong Kong.

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