By Gram Slattery and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley staked out one of the most hawkish positions on China in the 2024 Republican presidential field on Tuesday, calling for Washington to drastically limit ties with its geopolitical foe to address a dramatic rise in overdose deaths attributable to fentanyl in the United States.
“We’ve tried sanctions but they’re not working. We must ratchet up the pressure. As president, I will push Congress to revoke permanent normal trade relations until the flow of fentanyl ends,” Haley said at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington.
Some Republicans in Congress have pushed bills to end the preferential trade status China has enjoyed for decades and require annual presidential approval for it to receive preferential trade and tariff terms that other approved countries get.
“If China wants to start normal trade again, it has to stop killing Americans,” she said.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Haley’s remarks.
China is a major producer of the chemicals that are required to create fentanyl, which is frequently smuggled over the U.S.-Mexico border.
Haley is well behind in the presidential primary polls, with just 3% of Republicans planning to vote for her, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released earlier in June. She has sought to use foreign policy as a way to differentiate herself in a crowded Republican field, and her hardline stance on China could push her rivals to adopt harsher positions too.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine, has contributed to a sharp rise in U.S. drug overdose deaths. Almost 80,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
U.S. officials say the fentanyl issue has been a top priority in talks with Beijing even as relations between the geopolitical rivals have plumbed their lowest depths in decades.
They say China’s government has not been cooperative in recent years in helping to crackdown on the flow of fentanyl precursor chemicals or on money laundering related to trafficking.
But Beijing has countered that Washington should stop using the fentanyl crisis as a pretext to sanction Chinese companies, and Chinese state media have repeatedly said addiction and demand for the drug are U.S. domestic problems.
Several candidates vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination have adopted a confrontational stance toward China, though Haley appears to be upping the ante by putting forth a series of aggressive, specific policy proposals.
Haley and other Republican candidates are tapping into a deep distrust of China held by the American public. Some 82% of American adults expressed an unfavorable opinion of China, according to a Pew Research Center poll from last year.
Haley also pledged to shut down a pathway for the export of certain sensitive technologies to China from the United States.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery and Michael Martina, editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)
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