Hudson Institute

COVID-19 Isn't China's Only Deadly Export

A police offers shows heroine/fentanyl that was part of a kit that a woman was preparing to shoot inside a Walmart's bathroom on Sunday, February 10, 2019, in Manchester, NH. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A police offers shows heroine/fentanyl that was part of a kit that a woman was preparing to shoot inside a Walmart's bathroom on Sunday, February 10, 2019, in Manchester, NH. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that authoritarianism—and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) specifically—is hazardous to your health. From the lies and bungled response that turned the COVID-19 outbreak into a devastating pandemic to the uncontrolled export of fentanyl and methamphetamine, China is proving to be the source of America’s gravest public health challenges.

The precise origin of the COVID-19 virus is still debated. Early opinion favored a “natural” animal model as the most likely source. More recently, the thesis that the virus emerged from an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has gained support from academic experts and several US government officials. An even more troubling scenario involves highly risky “gain of function” research at the Wuhan lab possibly linked to broader Chinese Communist Party (CCP) bio-weapons programs. To date, no scenario can be ruled out, but the heart of the controversy remains the potential for CCP awareness of, or even complicity in, the creation of the deadly pathogen.

The unprecedented loss of American life from drug overdoses is a rising threat that presents a similar pattern of CCP behavior—at best, a systemic failure to stop the harm; at worst, complicity in fostering it.

The new poisons driving the overdose epidemic, synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine, are derived from chemical precursors found in industrial processes. These chemicals are governed (“scheduled”) by international conventions monitoring their global movement, to which the CCP should be bound. While under U.S. pressure the CCP has finally agreed to schedule some chemicals, it has yet to deter them.

Methamphetamine led to 16,167 U.S. overdose deaths in 2019, while the even deadlier opioid, fentanyl, now accounts for two-thirds of the nearly  90,000 annual American deaths (counted as of August, 2020), and still surging higher. In fact, during the pandemic lockdown, overdose deaths rose an additional 27 percent over the 2019 totals. Fentanyl is extremely lethal, and has been described by a former CIA official as “the perfect terrorist weapon.”

While fentanyl has been smuggled to U.S. streets directly from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the prevailing pattern is for the PRC to ship metric tons of the precursors to Mexico, where the cartels finish production and distribute  the poisons to U.S. users. The market is highly lucrative for the cartels and for producers in the PRC.

The staggering toll is now felt nationwide, with record seizures of both drugs climbing (such as a reported 500 percent increase in Mexican fentanyl border seizures in 2020), at levels of purity and potency never seen before. Further, the PRC producers/Mexican cartel alliance is going global, as when Dutch police “raid a crystal meth lab run by Mexican cooks using Dutch equipment to process chemicals from China.”

PRC-based groups are also taking a central role in global money laundering. As a Reuters report noted, they route cartel profits to the PRC and then on to Mexico with burner phones and banking apps, such that the cash dollars never cross the closely-watched U.S. southern border. "Most contact with the banking system happens in China, a veritable black hole for U.S. and Mexican authorities.”

Hence, the laundering operations not only avoid U.S. bank financial strictures, but by PRC alliances with the major narcotics producers, PRC currency controls are evaded, and the PRC secures much-needed “hard currency.”

It is foolish to ignore the CCP strategic interests in play. First, the US itself suffers a staggering toll in deaths and lawlessness. Second, Mexico, a U.S. ally, is increasingly destabilized by cartel violence and corruption, while migration turmoil is fueled by the cartel destabilization of the Hemisphere.

Finally, CCP propaganda can hold up capitalism as the source of US decadence and suffering, as addiction, death, and spreading drug use reveal America’s decay.

As with COVID-19, whether the CCP role is a function of neglect or of malicious policy remains a legitimate question. Rogue criminal actors could control the chemical supply and the financial dimensions of this assault on America.

But given what we know about the surveillance and control that the CCP holds over Chinese industrial, commercial, and financial activities, is this likely? That is, could an entire sector of industrial production and financial activity operate in lawless spaces? Would they not depend upon CCP sufferance, or even complicity, to operate on the international front?

It is now reasonable to consider that the CCP is conducting asymmetrical chemical warfare against America and other democracies, poisoning tens of thousands through narco-proxies.  

The Biden Administration confronts a worsening threat. The CCP understands the power that the illicit drug supply wields over America—it is imperative that the U.S. takes steps to confront this growing threat to both public health and national security before it’s too late.