Plastic bags of fentanyl are displayed in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area of the International Mail Facility at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 29, 2017.
The White House hailed "concrete action" by China Thursday to stop the illicit flow of opioids into the US, after nine members of a fentanyl-smuggling ring were sentenced to prison terms by a Chinese court.
The flashy sentencing comes as the two countries strive to negotiate a deal to at least partially resolve a tit-for-tat tariffs war that's now into its second year and has caused economic losses on both sides.
Moore said Chinese police identified more than 50 USA residents who tried to buy fentanyl from the Xingtai organization.
It is often used to make counterfeit narcotics because of its relatively cheap price, and it has played an increasingly central role in an opioid crisis in the United States.
The convictions are the first to arise from China's joint investigation with USA law enforcement into fentanyl smuggling.
Of the nine people jailed in Hebei, one was given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, which generally means a life term.
The other conspirators were given sentences ranging from six months to 10 years in prison.
Last year, China tightened supervision and revised rules around fentanyl production after the two presidents met at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, and has allowed USA law enforcement authorities to be more closely involved in investigating smuggling rings within China.
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He said the case should not be connected to politics or the trade war, and the timing of the sentencing was the result of the legal process.
Jeff Nyquist, an author and researcher of Chinese and Russian strategy, said China is using fentanyl as a "very effective tool". "It's about the life of human beings".
Jim Carroll, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the arrests were a "positive step".
In October, three Chinese citizens were charged by U.S. authorities with distributing the drug in the United States.
US officials say China's vast chemicals sector is the main supply of illicit fentanyl.
Chinese officials said the Xingtai case was one of three fentanyl trafficking networks they are pursuing based on USA intelligence, but declined to discuss the details of the other cases, which are ongoing.
"If illegal demand can not be effectively reduced, it is very hard to fundamentally tackle the fentanyl issue", Yu said.
China sentenced three nationals to maximum punishments for smuggling fentanyl to the US, in one of its highest-profile moves yet against the illicit flow of opioids that President Donald Trump has made a bone of contention in broader trade talks between Washington and Beijing.