AMLO asks Xi for help combatting drug trafficking

Briefly: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka AMLO) announced on Tuesday he had sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping seeking China’s help in controlling drug shipments across the Pacific.

At issue is fentanyl: a synthetic opiate often produced in Mexico (something AMLO denies) with chemicals from China (something AMLO highlights) and consumed in the US (a crisis which AMLO partly blames on a lack of hugs).

By publicising his letter, AMLO hopes to deflect mounting US criticism that Mexico isn’t doing enough to stem the flow of fentanyl to the US.

But Beijing won’t be happy about being dragged into the spotlight like this. As we flagged in today’s intro above, a world leader publicly releasing a private letter is a little like screenshotting a private group chat: not cool.

Plus Mexico already has a complex relationship with China: the two have long seen one another as competitors in the US market, and Mexican officials still fume over China’s response to Mexico’s H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

Intrigue’s take: Xi Jinping has yet to respond to AMLO’s letter, which was dated 22 March. And how does one respond to such a letter? It blames China, while also describing US attitudes as “absurd, manipulative, propagandistic and demagogic.” 

Privately, Xi may well agree with the latter sentiment. But his advisors will likely remind him that AMLO’s audience here – as ever – was also domestic. His letter slips in a reference to Mexico historically resisting the US “with courage, patriotism and dignity.” AMLO’s voters might cheer this line, but it’s not exactly relevant to fentanyl.

So yeah, AMLO has somehow managed to antagonise two world powers at once. But back home, he’s still one of the world’s most popular leaders.

Also worth noting: