Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 21:16:42 -0800 (PST)
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Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 21:16:29 -0800
The BurmaNet News: Monday, January 23, 1995
Asia's drug war
From the Wall Street Journal,
11 January 1995
Trade and information aren't the only things that have gone
global. Try drug addiction. Around the world, the U.S. is often
protrayed as a socity sinking under the weight of drug abuse.
But where the U.S. has about 600,000 heroin addicts, Thailand
probably has that many in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces
alone. According to the Straits Times, Singapore is treating
7,700 addicts (up from 5,700 in 190). Assuming improbably, that
these are the only ones, Singapore still has an addiction rate
12% higher than the U.S. Malaysia claims about 100,000 addicts,
Thaiwan about 50,000, and the standard estimate for Vietnam is
Without much doubt these figures understate the severity of the
problem in some countries. When Taiwan seized 1,114 kilos of
heroin in 1993, officials claimed the bulk was for domestic
consumption. Hong Kong clinics have registered a 50% jump in
female addicts since 1993, which they attribute to the price of a
gram of heroin plummeting to $40, half the price of three years
While the big money is made on the streets of New York and Los
Angeles, most of Asia's opium is consumed in Asia. So the
explosion in the Golden Triangle, especially Burma, is deeply
troubling. Opium output has trebled since 1988, to about 3,500
tons, according to Asean officials. Prosecutions are still
launched against lingtime traffickers in places like Thailand,
but in fact the business has rapidly migrated into the hands of
new Chinese gangs.
The quantity has gone up, and the purity has improved by a factor
of 1,000% or more. To understand why, look no farther than
Burma's emergence as China's economic satellite.
In the late 1980s, China began courting the Burmese regime, then
in bad odor with the rest of the world for slaughtering hundreds
of demonstators. Beijing dropped its support of the Communicst
Party of Burman and other ethnic rebel groups and opened the long
Sino-Burmese border to trade. That pried the lid from a
Pandora's Box whose contents are now spilling out into the world
The ex-insurgents, led by the Wa tribal followers of Burma's
Communists, nowadays devote themselves to the heroin business.
Dozens of refineries have opened along the border, with the drugs
moving overland by courier through China and finally out via Hong
Kong and Taiwan. These mainland routes have already eclipsed
Burmese drug warlord Khun Sa and Thai export routes.
For the time being, the Rangoon government has reached cease-
fires with most of the ethnic rebels in the north. Rangoon
leaves them to their drug trafficking, and probably even rakes
off a share of the profit, while concentrating its main energies
on building up the army and crushing urban dissent. No doubt
these cease-fires are temporary: The Burmese military is
reportedly set to renew is offensive against the Khun Sa
operatin, armed with a fresh supply of weapons from Beijing. In
time, the army probably hoes to subdue the rest of Burma's
minorities as well.
But that goal has eluded the Burmese military for 50 years, and
for nwo the local militias still call the shots in the
mountainous north. Poppy cultivation has boomed under teh supr
of competition for buyers. For their part, the Chinese see their
Burmese client as an economic and military bridgehead into
Southeast Asia. What they got in the bargain was an opium
bridgehead into China.
Junkies are suddenly proliferating along the drug routes through
Yunnan and Guangxi, in the inland provinces and even among
Beijing's yuppies. China recently admitted to having 300,000
"registered" addicts and called the situation "very grim."
Health officials put the real number at 2.5 million. In 1992,
the People's Armed Police was sent in to clean out a smuggling
center protected by corrupt Yunnan officials. The battle lasted
nearly 11 weeks and netted nearly 1,000 kilos of drugs.
China hasn't forgotten that tens of millions were junkies early
in the century. Biochemistry being what it is, the simple fact
of drugs being available is likely to produce a growing addiction
crisis. When Lee Brown of the U.S. Office of National Drug
Control Policy toured the region last June, several governments
urged him to restart anti-narcotics cooperation with Burma. But
the Burmese regime is still in the doghouse with Congress over
its human rights record and the detention of Nobel Peace Prize
winner Aung San Suu yi.
In any case, the old school, which sees U.S. and European
consumers as the main drivers of the heroin trade, may be out of
date. Malaysia recently nabbed a high-school-age heroin dealer.
Police suspect that pushers are trying to lock in a new clientele
among upwardly mobile young users. Asia's wealth is driving a
big part of the business these days. And while the U.S. can
help, China is the real key to Asia's developing drug crisis.
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