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China's Attempt at a Narcotics Crackdown

3 MINS READDec 7, 2007 | 18:21 GMT
Police in Beijing announced this week they have eliminated three large drug distribution networks since launching a major anti-narcotics operation in the city in May. The operation, they said, resulted in the arrest of more than 600 drug traffickers, though it appears the suspects are low-level distributors, rather than major traffickers. In the run-up the 2008 Olympic Games, Chinese authorities are expected to continue to crack down on illegal drug networks. But even large-scale crackdowns in the cities are only short-term solutions as long as the sources are left untouched. Although the country's drug laws make convicted drug traffickers subject to long prison sentences, and even execution, the problems of trafficking and the shipment of precursor chemicals continue — problems that are felt outside of the country as well. China has a domestic drug abuse problem, one that is growing as China's middle class grows. Synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamines and MDMA — known on the street as "ecstasy" — are particular problems in China's southern coastal cities, where growth has led to higher amounts of disposable income for recreational activities, including drug use. Most illegal drugs consumed in China come from two main sources. The first and most important is the Golden Triangle region of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, across from China's Yunnan province. The second is the area bordering China's Xinjiang province, a part of Central Asia referred to as the Golden Crescent. The Golden Triangle is a major area for heroin production, as it is one of the world's largest poppy-producing regions. The Golden Crescent's heroin production is estimated to be lower than that of the Golden Triangle, though it appears to be growing, particularly in Afghanistan. The government's drug trafficking and production problems do not affect China alone. Drug trafficking organizations send maritime shipments of heroin and other drugs to overseas markets through ports in Shanghai, Qingdao and Guangdong. Hong Kong is also a significant port for drug trafficking, even more so than some mainland ports. One of the biggest international problems associated with drug trafficking in China does not involve drugs, but rather the precursor chemicals used in the production of methamphetamines. China is the world's leading producer of natural ephedra and one of the largest producers of synthetic ephedra. U.S. authorities believe that well over half of these precursor chemicals that arrive in Mexico come from China — and in quantities much greater than Mexico requires for legitimate pharmaceutical purposes. Mexico's drug cartels, then, are able to get their hands on the chemicals, converting them in so-called meth superlabs to methamphetamines for sale in the United States. Many ephedra farms are owned and controlled by the Chinese government, leading the United States and other countries to push Beijing for greater controls on the flow of ephedra to prevent too much of the chemical from being exported and winding up in the wrong hands. In addition to stricter controls on chemical exports, there is much work to be done in terms of cracking down on the flow of heroin and other drugs into China. Drug-trafficking organizations increasingly use China as a transshipment point for Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian heroin destined for other countries. These groups are left untouched by highly publicized crackdowns in the big cities — and it does not appear that Chinese authorities plan to expand the scope of their operations any time soon.

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