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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
Issue #99

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 500,000.

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 ago.

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 through China.

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.

The BurmaNet News is an electronic newspaper covering Burma. Articles from newspapers, magazines, the wire services, newsletters and the Internet are published as well as original material. The BurmaNet News is e-mailed directly to subscribers and is also distributed via the soc.culture.burma and seasia-l mailing lists and is also available via the reg.burma conference on the APC networks. For a free subscription to the BurmaNet News, send an e-mail message to: strider@igc.apc.org . Subscriptions are handled manually so please allow for a delay before your request is fielded. Letters to the editor, comments or contributions of articles should be sent to the strider address as well. For those without e-mail, BurmaNet can be contacted by fax or snailmail.

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