U.S. Ramps Up Fentanyl Counterattack on Chinese Mainland, as DEA Faces Troubles at Home
By Vince Bielski
14 December 2021
U.S. drug agents are expanding operations in China – six years after America’s largest trading partner and global rival emerged as the main source of chemicals used to make highly lethal fentanyl. It’s now claiming 65,000 American lives a year.
The small crew of about a dozen Drug Enforcement Administration agents, including those in new outposts in Shanghai and Guangzhou, is nearly double the number in 2018. They face what seems like mission impossible: collaborating with Chinese agents to try to bust traffickers hidden somewhere in a sprawling export supply chain that’s linked to 160,000 companies.
“It’s such a massive chemical industry, and then there are layer upon layer of traders, brokers and freight forwarders,” says Russ Holske, the DEA’s director for the Far East, who set up the new offices in China before he retired. “It’s a daunting challenge.”
The fentanyl bans don’t mean much, however, if they’re not enforced. While Chinese authorities have curtailed shipments directly to the U.S., the DEA says, traffickers are supplying Mexican cartels with enough of the precursor chemicals – some of them also outlawed – to flood the states with deadly pills and powder. U.S. border agents seized 10,600 pounds of fentanyl in fiscal 2021, more than twice the prior year. That’s a small fraction of the amount that reaches cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
At times agents also run into resistance from Chinese authorities, according to an August report by a congressional group that examines U.S.-China economic and security issues. “Chinese regulatory authorities continue to delay requests for access to inspect and investigate potential sites of illegal chemical production where precursors are made,” the report said. “Requests are often delayed for days, allowing any illegal operation to vacate or clean up the premises.”