US, China hold high-level talks on anti-narcotics cooperation

Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy meets with the Chinese Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong, in Beijing

By Antoni Slodkowski

BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States and China held high-level talks on anti-narcotics cooperation on Thursday, following a breakthrough in bilateral work this week that saw them jointly go after a major drug-linked money laundering operation.

The U.S. and China restarted talks on counter-narcotics and law enforcement cooperation at the start of the year and China's public security department has lauded the case as a successful example of anti-drug cooperation between the two superpowers.

The U.S. Justice Department alleged this week that Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel conspired with groups based in California and tied to Chinese underground banking to launder drug-trafficking proceeds of more than $50 million.

The Justice Department said it closely coordinated with law enforcement in Mexico and China. Chinese state media said China arrested the suspect in the case, adding it involved criminal activities including the illegal trading of foreign exchange.

"The recent joint law enforcement action this week was a significant step," Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said at the start of his meeting with China's minister of public security, Wang Xiaohong.

"These are concrete examples of the counternarcotics cooperation," said Gupta, adding that they "will carry us forward."

Wang told Gupta that the recent frequent exchanges on narcotics between U.S. and Chinese officials "are all proof that our counternarcotic cooperation has been quite fruitful - they also show China's goodwill and friendship."

The United States, where fentanyl abuse has been a major cause of death, has pushed for deeper law enforcement cooperation, including tackling illicit finance and further controls on the chemicals that can be used to make fentanyl.

Ties between the two countries have been tense in recent years over a range of issues including the origins of COVID-19, trade tariffs, Taiwan and human rights, hampering Washington's hopes of persuading China to re-join its efforts to stop the flow of fentanyl into the United States.

In November 2019, in an unusual disclosure of Sino-U.S. cooperation in cracking down on fentanyl crimes, Chinese and U.S. law enforcement jointly announced that they had worked together to break up a smuggling ring.

But such cooperation fizzled out when COVID-19 arrived, and geopolitical headwinds pushed bilateral ties to their lowest in decades - until the November summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping led to a thaw and the resumption of anti-narcotics talks.

In an interview with state broadcaster CGTN late on Wednesday, deputy secretary general of China National Narcotics Control Commission Yu Haibin reiterated China's position that the U.S. was to blame for creating the fentanyl problem due to "its own misuse of prescription drugs".

But he added that "China is willing to offer full support in terms of material control, intelligence sharing, law enforcement and combating transnational crimes."

He said that currently the two countries "are conducting joint investigations in several cases – which will have a significant deterrent effect on criminals involved in drug-related activities in both China and the United States."

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Michael Perry and Shinjini Ganguli)