U.S., China Hold ‘Productive’ Talks on Drug Trafficking, AI, and More

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Bangkok last weekend. The pair spoke for 12 hours over two days, building on talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden in November 2023.  

China’s Foreign Ministry called the talks “candid, substantive, and productive” in its readout. The U.S. readout noted that although the U.S. and China are competing, “both countries need to prevent [the relationship] from veering into conflict or confrontation.”  

Bilateral military-to-military contacts resumed following the Biden-Xi meeting in November — senior U.S. and Chinese military officials formally met for the first time in four years just last month — and the first meeting of a U.S.-China dialogue on artificial intelligence is set for this spring.

Joint crackdown on fentanyl ‘precursors’  

A direct result of recent U.S.-China talks was the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-China Counternarcotics Working Group on Tuesday. Washington is asking Beijing to halt exports of fentanyl ‘precursors’ (i.e. raw chemicals) to places like Mexico and Canada, where ingredients are processed into fentanyl and smuggled over the border. In 2022, roughly 70,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses involving fentanyl or similar drugs.  

Over the past five years, the U.S. has introduced roughly US$800 million worth of “powerful scanning and detection equipment” for drugs at land border crossings, according to the Washington Post. Last month, Canada’s ambassador to China, Jennifer May, said in a CBC interview that Canada, China, Mexico, and the U.S. are co-operating to reduce the cross-border flow of fentanyl, an opioid involved in 84 per cent of the 3,970 overdose deaths in Canada from January to June 2023. May also credited Beijing for responding to previous requests to crack down on drug trafficking.  

Differences persist, but channels remain open  

The meetings set the stage for a call between Xi and Biden “in the coming months,” according to a senior administration official, and a potential trip by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China later this year.  

Differences persist, however. Sullivan failed to get Wang on board with Washington’s efforts to resolve the Red Sea shipping crisis, and according to China’s readout, Wang reiterated to Sullivan that “Taiwan independence poses . . . the biggest challenge to China-U.S. relations.”