By Michael Martina
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China's move to suspend cooperation with the United States to combat narcotics trafficking, including illicit fentanyl, is "unacceptable," the White House said on Monday, as Beijing continued to protest a visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China announced fresh military drills on Monday around Taiwan - a day after the scheduled end of its largest ever exercises in response to the highest-level U.S. visit to the Chinese-claimed island in 25 years.
In addition to the drills, Beijing last week announced the cancelation or suspension of a series of cooperation channels with Washington, including theater-level military talks, and exchanges on climate change, transnational crime, and counternarcotics.
Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), said he was disappointed by the move in light of the ongoing overdose epidemic driven by fentanyl that has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the United States in the past year.
"At a time when illicit fentanyl continues to claim a life every five minutes, it's unacceptable that the PRC (People's Republic of China) is withholding cooperation that would help to bring to justice individuals who traffic these illicit drugs and who engage in this global criminal enterprise," Gupta said in a statement.
The disruption would have global implications, he said.
"China has played and must play a key role in helping disrupt the illicit flow of drugs like fentanyl and their precursor chemicals," Gupta said, adding that the United States would continue to push for international action.
Despite China banning fentanyl and similar variants in 2019, it remains a primary source of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States.
Beijing says its efforts to strictly control narcotics, including fentanyl, have received international recognition.
Prior to China suspending cooperation, U.S. President Joe Biden and China's leader Xi Jinping discussed the fentanyl issue during a call in July, and had tasked their teams to conduct follow-up work.
A U.S. Congressional report said last August that weak cooperation from Chinese authorities was hindering efforts to curb increasingly sophisticated forms of fentanyl trafficking.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Bernadette Baum)