". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Biden Admin Considers Lifting Human Rights Sanctions to Beg China to Help with Fentanyl Crisis

July 26, 2023

In a desperate bid for the Chinese government’s help fighting the fentanyl crisis, the Biden administration is discussing lifting sanctions on a Chinese police forensics institute suspected of human rights abuses, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Biden administration has been trying to get any sort of cooperation from Chinese counterparts to regulate Chinese companies that make fentanyl-class drugs and chemicals used to make fentanyl, including an attempt to start a working group about the issue. Yet, Chinese officials have held on to their hardline stance that they would not resume joint counternarcotics work until the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science was removed from a U.S. government export blacklist.

The Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science, part of China’s nationwide police force, was first placed on the U.S. government’s Entity List during the Trump administration in 2020. This meant that the forensic institute was restricted from accessing new U.S. technology. When the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the blacklist designation, it stated that the forensic institute and the other entities were singled out because they were, “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).” Human rights advocates celebrated the move. Given the atrocities taking place against Uyghur Muslims, the least that the United States could do is to not send more equipment the persecutors.

We should not forget the gravity of what these entities were — and continue to be — involved in. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps. The few survivors who escape to a free country to share their story have described torture, rape, organ harvesting, forced sterilization, and forced labor occurring in the camps. In a 2014 speech preceding the crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, President Xi Jinping himself told Communist Party officials to show “absolutely no mercy.” The Trump administration was right to blacklist the forensic institute in 2020 for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The U.S. government should have no ties to entities committing atrocities, and we certainly should not be enabling the abusers by handing over new technology.

The fact that Beijing would even raise the issue of removing the forensics institute from the entity list is shameless. Even more astonishingly, Chinese leaders are withholding help from the United States with the fentanyl crisis to demand that sanctions on human rights abusers be lifted. This is absolutely heinous. China plays a significant role in America’s fentanyl crisis. Chinese companies make and ship chemicals to Mexico which are used to make fentanyl and later smuggled across the southern border into the United States. It is understandable the Biden administration would want to go straight to the source and work with Beijing to address the problem. However, the deal that Beijing is trying to cut is simply too costly.

Biden administration officials said they have not offered to remove the sanctions on the forensics institute — and they must stand firm. However, the fact that Beijing would even press the U.S. to make this deal is revealing on a number of levels.

First, it reveals that the U.S. government’s targeted sanctions against human rights abusers is effective. This is a valuable lesson for human rights advocates in the United States. There is often a lot of cynicism over the efficacy of targeted sanctions or blacklists. However, the fact that Beijing is pushing so hard for one specific entity to be taken off the Commerce Department’s blacklist is a very good thing. That tells us that this blacklist hurts; specifically, it hurts the entity that is guilty of human rights abuses. This is cause for celebration, and it should encourage the U.S. government to utilize more targeted sanctions and blacklists for individuals and entities that commit serious human rights abuses.

Second, the Chinese government is cruel. Chinese leaders will withhold helping the U.S. government save American lives in order that their forensic police force might have the equipment it needs to carry out atrocities. This is evil. The atrocities taking place in Xinjiang — and against religious minorities throughout China, for that matter — are difficult to fathom. Still, Chinese leaders have yet to admit any wrongdoing against the religious adherents that they detain, imprison, harass, or intimidate. For Christians, this should make clear that the conflict is not merely relegated to diplomatic maneuvering between China and the United States; this is a spiritual battle.

Third, Biden administration officials may be eager to cooperate with Beijing, but their Chinese counterparts are not. President Biden has repeatedly emphasized that rather than an adversary, China is a “competitor” — and one we can cooperate with on a variety of issues. Though the Biden administration continues to extend the olive branch, it is routinely spurned. Most recently, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry was rebuffed during his visit to China. He had several lengthy meetings with Chinese counterparts regarding concerns over climate change but failed to find common ground. While Kerry was still in China, President Xi — who did not meet with Kerry — stated that China’s climate change goals “will never be influenced by others.”

The Biden administration is running into similar issues over fentanyl. The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics estimates that synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) led to approximately 70,601 deaths in 2021. Reining in dangerous substances that lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans would presumably be an issue over which Chinese officials might have some compassion. It is very much within the Chinese government’s power to get the Chinese companies who are accelerating the problem under control. Sadly, instead of stretching out a hand to U.S. counterparts, Chinese officials are pressing to lift sanctions on Chinese human rights abusers before they are even willing to have a conversation about fentanyl. It is a hard pill for them to swallow, but the Biden administration must understand that Beijing simply does not want to cooperate with the United States.

Lastly, the Biden administration continues to appear weak on the world stage. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, expressed outrage at the Chinese government’s proposal, and what it implies about Biden’s leadership. Grassley stated, “It only serves to demonstrate what the Chinese Communist Party expects to get away with under the Biden administration. If the Biden administration accepts this, it will be a further cultivation of a failed strategy of appeasement with our adversaries.”

Chinese officials think that the U.S. can be pressured to make major concessions without receiving all that much in return. This is a sad state of affairs. If President Biden wants to appear strong and steadfast, he should unflinchingly affirm the U.S. government’s decision to blacklist the forensic entity. Should the Biden administration accept Beijing’s proposed deal, it would send the message that the U.S. government can be bullied into sending high-tech equipment to human rights abusers. This should never be true.

Arielle Del Turco is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."