When Jorge Guajardo arrived in Beijing as Mexican ambassador in 2007, he came with a directive about what was his country’s most urgent issue with the Chinese government. Mexico needed China to curb its manufacturing and sale of a dangerous class of chemicals—precursors to making fentanyl and other synthetic drugs—that flowed nearly unchecked into North America.
The drugs were legal in China, sold openly online and through factory reps. Drug cartels in Mexico used the China-made chemicals to fuel their growing arsenal of heroinlike synthetics sold into the United States to feed the country’s hunger for opioids. For six years, his tenure as ambassador, Guajardo tried to get China’s government to stop production of the chemicals powering the deadly epidemic. The issue was so critical to his country’s future that Mexico started bringing it up at every cabinet-level meeting with the Chinese side.