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WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on three Chinese citizens accused of trafficking synthetic opioids, stepping up efforts to curb the flow of fentanyl from China into the United States.

The move comes just weeks after Trump accused China of not doing enough to stop the drug from entering the United States -- one of several factors he cited as a reason for escalating his trade war with Beijing.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control is sanctioning Fujing Zheng and the Zheng Drug Trafficking Organization along with Guanghua Zheng and Qinsheng Pharmaceutical Co., which support the organization's activities. It also identified Xiaobing Yan as a "significant foreign narcotics trafficker."

"The Chinese kingpins that [the Office of Foreign Assets Control] designated today run an international drug trafficking operation that manufactures and sells lethal narcotics, directly contributing to the crisis of opioid addiction, overdoses and death in the United States," Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement. "Zheng and Yan have shipped hundreds of packages of synthetic opioids to the U.S., targeting customers through online advertising and sales and using commercial mail carriers to smuggle their drugs into the United States."

The sanctions come as relations between the United States and China have soured in recent months after a breakdown in trade negotiations and an escalation of tariffs. The two countries have also been at odds over Trump's plans to ship a fleet of American-made F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan and China's continuing purchases of Iranian oil in violation of a U.S. ban.

The flow of fentanyl from China has been particularly frustrating for Trump, however, because he has said that President Xi Jinping made a personal commitment to curtail the supply of the powerful opioid that has led to thousands of overdose deaths in the United States.

In April, China announced that it would ban all variants of fentanyl. However, it did not ban all precursor chemicals that are used to make it, leaving open the ability for traffickers to ship those components to other countries where the drug can be produced.

Trump said earlier this month that he believed Xi broke his promise.

"He said he was going to stop fentanyl from coming into our country -- it's all coming out of China; he didn't do that," Trump said. "We're losing thousands of people to fentanyl."

Trump plans to impose tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods in response to the ongoing flow of fentanyl and China's failure to buy more U.S. agricultural goods.

The Justice Department indicted Fujing Zheng and Guanghua Zheng, his father, in 2018 for running a drug trafficking operation that produced and shipped illicit drugs to 47 states and 25 countries. Xiaobing Yan was indicted in 2017 for manufacturing and distributing drugs in cities across the United States.

They remain at large, however, and China has not taken action against them.

A Section on 08/22/2019

Print Headline: U.S. sanctioning three Chinese accused of trafficking in opioids

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