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Biden eases sanctions to gain China’s help on drug crisis

The US has dropped trade restrictions against a Chinese institute to win Beijing’s support on halting the flow of fentanyl

President Joe Biden’s administration has dropped trade restrictions against the Chinese government’s forensic science institute as part of a push to persuade Beijing to help block the trafficking of fentanyl and its precursor chemicals into the US.

The institute’s removal from the blacklist was confirmed on Thursday in a notice posted by multiple US agencies to the Federal Register. The move came one day after Biden held a long-awaited meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the San Francisco Bay area, where the two leaders agreed to resume cooperation between their governments on fighting the trafficking of synthetic opioids and other drugs. 

Washington put the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science on its sanctions list in 2020 to punish Beijing for alleged abuses against China’s Uyghur ethnic minority. The penalty essentially banned US suppliers from exporting most goods to the institute. China’s then-ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, later criticized the decision, saying Washington was asking for help addressing America’s drug crisis while sanctioning an entity that was essential to fighting fentanyl trafficking.

US leaders have repeatedly blamed China for contributing to the US opioid crisis, which resulted in nearly 110,000 overdose deaths in 2022. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who traveled to Beijing last month, claimed that Chinese companies were “fueling” the crisis by supplying ingredients for production of synthetic opioids in Mexico. Chinese officials have argued that the problem is “rooted” in the US, where the government has failed to stop illegal drug use.

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Republican lawmakers and other Biden critics blasted the decision to grant sanctions relief to Beijing, saying there is no guarantee that Xi’s government will truly cooperate on stopping the flood of fentanyl. “President Biden is willing to negotiate away critical human rights sanctions for a deal with China,” said US Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) said the forensic science institute was “clearly complicit” in human rights abuses. “It would send the wrong message to lift sanctions on the forensic institute, which has been implicated in the involuntary collection of DNA of Tibetans and Uyghurs,” said Louisa Greve, the UHRP’s director of global advocacy.


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