Source: Global Times Published: 2019-11-8
Handing heavy sentences to fentanyl peddlers and manufacturers signals a benign cooperation between China and the US on a crackdown on such crimes. But linking it to the trade deal disrespects lives, an official said.
The leader of a Chinese fentanyl trafficking gang, surnamed Liu, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Xingtai Intermediate People's Court in North China's Hebei Province on Thursday. The gang is believed to have targeted international clients, including US ones.
Two of Liu's accomplices were given life sentences.
This was the first fentanyl smuggling case Beijing and Washington jointly cracked down on.
During the investigation, Chinese and US law enforcement agencies frequently exchanged information, and China successfully traced the group thanks to tips from the US. After three months' hard work and tens of thousands of miles traveled, China finally arrested more than 20 suspects, confiscated 11.9 kilograms of fentanyl and 19.1 kilograms of alprazolam, among other drugs.
Yu Haibin, deputy director at the China National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC), said that the US first informed China that a Chinese citizen named "Dianna" was involved in fentanyl smuggling to the US.
But the US provided only a phone number and other minor leads on "Diana."
However, China managed to identify the organizer of the crime ring, Yu said.
Austin Moore, a US Homeland Security Department attaché to China, said the case was "an important step" of collaboration between Chinese and US investigators across international borders.
Yu said the case was one of three fentanyl smuggling cases Chinese and US investigators worked on.
The other two cases are still being investigated, and still another is close to being solved, said Yu, who promised to share more detail when the cases are closed.
Yu said the timely exchange of information, effective cooperation and mutual respect for the legal system of the other country was crucial to the successful cooperation.
Experts said the rare joint effort between China and the US to crack down on the additive drug that has cost lives in the US, injected limited optimism for constructive collaboration between the two countries amid a bitter trade war.
The successful example also shows that Beijing and Washington, despite many differences, can also join hands in solving dilemmas and showcase a good example of cooperation to the international community, Diao Daming, a US studies expert at Renmin University of China told the Global Times on Thursday.
"Law enforcement usually is a tough field for bilateral cooperation. The two countries' successful joint work this time sheds light on future cooperation," he said.
Chinese observers also said since the two countries have made substantial improvement recently, such joint cooperative cases would shed light on and create a benign environment for the upcoming trade consultations.
In October, Geng Shuang, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, quoted the US side as saying that both sides reached a substantial phase one agreement in trade negotiations.
Not wooing the US
However, some foreign media have been misinterpreting the gesture as a way to convince or woo the US to settle trade negotiations.
They cast doubts that the timing of the announcement of the case, after the phase one trade agreement, shows China is eager to settle a deal.
Yu said that the case followed strict procedures, which involved considerable work in gathering evidence and going to trial.
China mentioned the case at a press conference in August 2018, and the Chinese special task force went to the US to get evidence, Yu said.
"Combating drug-related crimes is without borders," said Yu, noting that any move to politicize or link China's efforts to regulate fentanyl with trade negotiations disrespects lives.
Experts said that on the contrary, the US is the one that is anxious, and its slow economy and bruise from the trade war with China makes it eager to settle for a deal with China.
Fighting drug-related crimes is a consistent task of the Chinese government, and China's tough stance against drugs is praised worldwide, they noted.
Diao said linking fentanyl with the trade negotiations shows the US was trying to use it as a bargaining chip.
The two issues have nothing to do with each other, and the US understands China's determination to crack down on fentanyl problems, he said, noting that linking the two issues shows the US is running out of ways to pressure China.
Liu Yuejin, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission, said in September that although China had been working closely with the US on curbing the illicit flow of the substance, such efforts were "totally irrelevant" to the trade negotiations and the two issues "should not be mixed together."
Yu said that there's no evidence to support the accusation that China is the major source of US fentanyl substances. The facts show that the US opioid crisis is a result of its huge domestic demand and loose supervision.
Cracking down on fentanyl cannot be solved singlehandedly by any country. China is willing to cooperate with other countries to solve the worldwide problem, Yu said.
US law enforcement departments reported that from October 2018 to March 2019, 536 kilograms of fentanyl substances were seized and only 5 kilograms came from China.
Authorities made 229 fentanyl busts during that period, and only 17 involved Chinese smugglers, NNCC Records show.
Diao Daming is a research fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.