In a recent interview with CNBC, Senator Rob Portman claimed that China could stop all the fentanyl from being shipped to the U.S.? But is it true that China holds such power?

I have done some research and it doesn't seem that China can easily stop the drug from being shipped. From rand.org:

The situation is similar for China’s chemical regulators, who cannot adequately enforce regulations on all manufacturers and distributors.49 Regulatory gaps have led to a large increase in the number of unlicensed or “semi-legitimate” chemical manufacturers or distributors.50 There are reports that use of shell facilities and weak oversight lets some chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers avoid scrutiny, allowing companies to produce and sell beyond their legal limits.51In 2007, industry insiders estimated that uncertified chemical manufacturers produced half of the APIs sold in China, with most exported to foreign markets.52 It is unclear what proportion of uncertified manufacturers are supplying international API markets today or what amount of synthetic opioids is produced and exported via shell entities.

Gaps in regulatory design, the division of responsibility between provincial and central governments, and a lack of oversight and government and corporate accountability increase opportunities for corruption. The Regional Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Jeremy Douglas, has asserted that corruption contributes to the ongoing illicit manufacturing and export of synthetic drugs and precursors. In 2015, after a major seizure of two and half tons of methamphetamine in Hong Kong—one of the biggest seizures in Asia at the time—Douglas stated, “To operate a lab like this, you need a lot of chemicals, which are legitimate, regulated chemicals from the pharmaceutical industry. There is some kind of corruption in the chemical/pharmaceutical industry taking place allowing this to happen.”53 The Department of State also points to insufficient regulatory oversight and corruption of local government officials as explanations behind illicit drug and chemical production

Chinese authorities recognize these problems, and the government has made some efforts to expel corrupt officials. The high-profile conviction and execution of the former director of the forerunner to the CFDA in 2007 is one such example. The central government has been tough on local officials and businesses, arresting nearly 2,000 people in a nationwide crackdown on counterfeit drug manufacturers in 2012. In 2015, President Xi Jinping demanded that authorities increase penalties and stiffen drug regulation. This past March, the central government proposed another reorganization of the CFDA, combining it with other regulatory entities. Details are not final, but industry observers suggest that this reorganization is intended to extend the agency’s regulatory reach and reduce gaps in oversight.


I would argue.

  1. Yes and No. Can China do something about it. Yes. Will their effort help? Of course it would. The US and China can set up a partnership of intelligence sharing to stopping fentanyl. But can they stop all shipments? Of course not. Can any country stop all illegal activities of a particular type? No. No country can. If stopping all illegal activities of a particular type were possible, why doesn't the US just stop people from buying all illegal drugs, period? (why limit ourselves to fentanyl?)

  2. It would matter not. Because if you notice, no one in America ever buys their drugs from a Chinese street dealer, EVER. The Chinese gangs simply do not have that kind of muscle or fierpower in the US. The criminal enterpries, the cartels that dominate the drug trade, are multi-billion dollar mega organizations, with R&D divisions on products, logistics, distribution, etc. Now that there is an established market for fentanyl in the US, if we ever cut off the supply from China, production will simply shift to the Cartel controlled regions in Latin America. Fentanyl is a synthetic compound, I am sure they can cook it (apparently it is easier than Meth). And given how potent that stuff is (compact), they can easily bring it over the US Mexico border like they do with everything else and make big bucks (it is highly profitable)

Edit: Links potentially of interest

How the deadly drug fentanyl is making its way to the US

Mexican drug lord El Chapo’s in jail, but Chinese fentanyl is still fuelling his Sinaloa cartel’s business


Since my comment was deleted, I'll repeat this as a frame-challenge answer.

I watched the full 7 minutes of the boring video and I didn't see where the Senator makes this (obviously ridiculous) claim that China could stop all Fentanyl going into the US. So you seem to be setting up a straw man here.

It's also unclear what you really want to "ask" here, or actually posit:

  • China can[not] decrease corruption (if that's the ultimate cause of drug trafficking)
  • China can[not] crack down on production (any further?)
  • China can[not] regulate its (internal) precursor market better

Clearly China has been doing some of this. And some measures are pretty recent, so implementation might be not as good as it could be, e.g.

As this relates to synthetic opioids, lack of international scheduling has allowed Chinese manufacturers to export fentanyl precursors. Although they have been scheduled in the United States for a decade, N-Phenethyl-4-piperidinone (NPP) and anilino-N-phenethylpiperidine (ANPP) were not listed or subject to international controls until October 2017. In late 2016, the U.S. Department of State identified nearly 260 producers of these precursors, more than half of which were in China. These chemicals were finally scheduled in China this past February. Prior to then, there was little scrutiny on their manufacture, and producers faced little, if any, reporting, production, or exporting restrictions.


Regulatory gaps have led to a large increase in the number of unlicensed or “semi-legitimate” chemical manufacturers or distributors [in China]. There are reports that use of shell facilities and weak oversight lets some chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers avoid scrutiny, allowing companies to produce and sell beyond their legal limits. In 2007, industry insiders estimated that uncertified chemical manufacturers produced half of the APIs [active pharmaceutical ingredients] sold in China, with most exported to foreign markets. It is unclear what proportion of uncertified manufacturers are supplying international API markets today or what amount of synthetic opioids is produced and exported via shell entities.


The division in enforcement strategy, in which the CFDA inspects only a subset of manufacturers, leaving the rest up to provincial authorities, may reflect this limitation. The CFDA and other regulators are unable to effectively inspect and police the large number of pharmaceutical manufacturers. The WHO notes that, although the CFDA is attempting to hire more inspectors, its efforts are complicated by lack of time and resources; private industry salaries are highly competitive, complicating efforts to retain qualified staff.


According to the most recent CFDA annual report, 15 firms that manufacture narcotic or psychotropic drugs, precursors, or pharmaceuticals were inspected that year; three did not pass inspection for failure to properly handle mailing and transportation certificates or failure to control samples. These numbers suggest that regulators are inspecting a small share of companies and that a sizable portion of manufacturers of controlled substances assessed in 2017 failed inspection for improper handling and transport.

That's from the very report you quoted the other stuff.

On a related note, regarding the trafficking route, see this Skeptiks question And to quote a bit that's also relevant here from that answer; news from July this year...

The number of drug seizures involving high-purity fentanyl sent via mail from China "dropped precipitously" this year, according to Thomas Overacker, the executive director of the Office of Field Operations at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Only several pounds of fentanyl have been intercepted this year at U.S. mail facilities and airports, predominantly originating from China. "Most of the illicit fentanyl" entering the country "does so at ports of entry along our southwest border," Overacker told members of a congressional subcommittee Tuesday.


The shift from China to Mexico is very recent and largely the result of successful drug control strategies implemented in the past two years.

Specifically, officials cited Beijing's decision in May to criminalize all fentanyl-related substances following U.S. pressure. The move led to a decline in the number of Chinese vendors willing to export fentanyl products, according to David Prince with Homeland Security Investigations' transnational organized crime office.

So not only could China do more, but apparently its efforts are having an effect, according to some US officials. (Why Trump is apparently still pressing China hard on this e.g. with the recent Tweets is a somewhat different matter, related to the trade war, judging by the context of the tweets.)

I should also add that not all the progress is attributed to China's sole efforts; some is credited to the improved package tracking (which China does probably contribute to, although this is not made explicit in the quote below):

As a result of requiring data on the sender, recipient and the contents of an international parcel, as well as new technology to scan packages, the postal service saw a 1,000% increase in the number of parcels seized containing synthetic opioids between 2016 and 2018. Domestically, the agency saw the number of opioid parcel seizures increase by 750% in the same timeframe.

In 2019, USPS statistics suggest that international seizures are down and domestic seizures are trending up. "This shift may suggest synthetic opioids are increasingly entering the country through means other than international mail," Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale told lawmakers.


China has the power to stop most of the fentanyl that currently goes to the US, but why would they want to?

Perhaps it's not obvious to most people, but China is rapidly overtaking the US and intends on replacing it as the world's most powerful nation (just as the US took over from the UK following WWII).

Disrupting American society is one of their methods.

“Recent Chinese doctrine articulates the use of a wide spectrum of warfare against its adversaries, including the United States,” said a 2014 report from U.S. Army Special Operations Command. “The People’s Liberation Army (pla) colonels Liang and Xiangsui outline China’s vision on how China will attack the United States through a combination of military and nonmilitary actions. … These methods include trade warfare, financial warfare, ecological warfare, psychological warfare, smuggling warfare, media warfare, drug warfare, network warfare, technological warfare, fabrication warfare, resources warfare, economic aid warfare, cultural warfare and international law warfare” (Sept. 26, 2014).

— from China’s Drug War—Against America | theTrumpet.com

(Be aware that this quotation is from an article in a religious-based magazine. I'm not trying to prosletyze or convert anyone; it was simply a convenient source.)

  • The reality is... the opioid crisis was created in the lab of a multi billion dollar Pharmaceutical, Purdue, run by the Sackler family (they are being sued for billions and their company has just declared bankruptcy). And the drug mostly come from Mexico (allegedly by way of china), and distributed by the cartels in the US. We can of course blame China for all of it. But it would not save ONE life in the USA (as the cartel can easily manufacture the drug with China's help). We have a lot of Fake Patriots who care more about Politics than American lives. Sep 18 '19 at 13:34
  • By with china's help i mean.. they already had all the help they needed from china to get started. Now they can do it without anyone's help. But we can of course continue to say they did so with china's help. But it wouldn't stop the cartels at all. In fact, focusing on just China will simply help the cartels. Sep 18 '19 at 13:40
  • @dolphin_of_france, I wasn't saying that China started the problem, only that they are taking advantage of it, using the lessens the British taught them during the Opium Wars. Sep 18 '19 at 13:44
  • sounds like paranoia. But if we believe that is the case, we should go Full China, and declare war on them. That was what the Chinese did. They went to war with the UK to stop the opium, because selling opium to the Chinese was an official policy of the British government (with debates in the Parliment). Organic opium killed very few Chinese. Fentanyl killed many Americans. If this is a Chinese government policy, would you not say that War is the correct response? Demanding them to stop seems weak, if that's what they are actually doing. Sep 18 '19 at 13:46
  • @dolphin_of_france: Wrong. The so-called "opioid crisis" was created as a job-protection scheme by DEA bureaucrats, as a response to the legalization of marijuana by an increasing number of US states. Face it, if the drug warriors don't have someone to persecute... err, prosecute, they're out of their jobs.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 18 '19 at 18:12

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