CLAIM: Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy claimed that precursor drugs used to make fentanyl “are coming from labs in Wuhan, China” and going to Mexican drug cartels.
VERDICT: TRUE. Wuhan is one of China’s top chemical-producing cities and for years dominated fentanyl manufacturing; it has since evolved into the home of top suppliers of fentanyl precursor ingredients.
Ramaswamy noted Wuhan’s status as the home of several chemical corporations linked to the production of fentanyl – and, in particular, accused of selling precursor drugs to Mexican cartels that then produce the fentanyl and ship it to the United States. Ramaswamy was responding to a question on Wednesday night during a Republican presidential primary debate, hosted by the network NewsNation.
Asked if his promise to use the military to eliminate drug labs in Mexico was “giving false hope” to Americans plagued by an increasingly severe fentanyl overdose crisis, Ramaswamy described the decision to combat the cartels as “the easy part.”
“The easy part is talking about how we are going to use our military to secure the border. I will, and I believe that everybody else [on stage] wants to do the same thing,” he responded. “But the harder part is dealing with the crisis of purpose and meaning, the mental health epidemic raging across this country like wildfire.”
Ramaswamy returned to the origin of fentanyl later in his answer, asserting, “A lot of these [precursor materials] are coming from labs in Wuhan, China, of all places, drug materials that are going to the Mexican drug cartels that they are pumping across that southern border like a modern opium war.”
The candidate added that, if elected, “I will tell [Chinese dictator] Xi Jinping: you will not only not buy land in this country or donate to universities in this country, U.S. businesses won’t expand into the Chinese market until they’re playing by the same set of rules.”
“The same country that’s putting fentanyl into illegal pharmaceuticals in Mexico – it’s no coincidence – is the exact same country that unleashed hell on the world with the COVID-19 pandemic,” he concluded. “We also have to hold them accountable with every financial lever we have available.”
Wuhan, China, is most known internationally as the first city to document cases of the novel coronavirus that fueled a pandemic beginning in early 2019. Prior to the pandemic, however, Wuhan had already developed a reputation as a hub for fentanyl production.
“For drug traffickers interested in getting in on the fentanyl business, all roads once led to Wuhan,” the Los Angeles Times observed in 2020. “The sprawling industrial city built along the Yangtze River in east-central China is known for its production of chemicals, including the ingredients needed to cook fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids.”
The Los Angeles Times report identified Mexican drug cartels as “the biggest customers” for Wuhan’s fentanyl industry.
China’s brutal lockdowns following the pandemic, which began in Wuhan itself, affected the global supply chain of fentanyl significantly, raising prices and resulting in drug cartels shifting strategies. The ties between Wuhan pharmaceutical companies and Mexican drug cartels persisted, however, leading to the U.S. government sanctioning and indicting some of those companies.
In April, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on Wuhan Shuokang Biological Technology Co., Ltd, a pharmaceutical company, and its own Yao Huatao for being a key supplier of fentanyl precursor drugs. In June, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against several Chinese pharmaceutical executives and companies for allegedly providing fentanyl precursors. The Wuhan-based Hubei Amarvel Biotech Co. Ltd. was accused of having “exported vast quantities of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl and its analogues.”
Amarvel Biotech, the Justice Department noted, openly advertised “stealth shipping” of their products to Mexico and appeared to have ties to the Sinaloa Cartel.
Another series of eight Justice Department indictments announced in October targeted several more Chinese companies, including at least one headquartered in Wuhan, accused of “fentanyl trafficking conspiracy and international money laundering.”
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