Saying No to Drugs
Cracking down on drug operations and imposing harsh penalties for possession making inroads
A large-scale anti-drug publicity drive was launched across China on June 26, 2004, the day designated as International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. It has been an important event on the Chinese Government’s agenda to carry out nationwide publicity and educational activities against drug abuse every year this day. Since it opened up to the outside world 25 years ago, China has been used by traffickers as a passage in the international drug trafficking network, mainly because it is adjacent to the Golden Triangle, an area between Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, notorious for drug production. As a result, an overflow of narcotics has appeared in the country, and the increasing number of drug addicts has caused many social problems. Cracking down on drug-related crime is a priority for the Chinese Government. Since the first professional anti-drug police unit was formed in 1982, China has scored outstanding successes in the fight against drug abuse and trafficking.
By LAN XINZHEN
When drug lord Tan Minglin was sentenced to death in Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan Province, on May 10, 2004, China’s largest drug smuggling group was smashed. Tan was found guilty of “trafficking, selling and transporting of drugs” as well as “trading in instruments of drug production.” His personal property was confiscated.
“This is the highest level criminal case we have ever won since we started anti-drug action 20 years ago. It is like removing a malignant tumor from society,” said Hong Bo (not his real name), an official of Yunnan Provincial Narcotics Control Bureau.
The Golden Triangle, an area where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet, has become a notorious opium and heroin production base since the 1950s. Drug lords like Luo Xinghan and Khun Sa used to embed their armed gangs in this area. Though most of the drug trafficking groups collapsed in the 1980s, a new one appeared in the 1990s, headed by the notorious Tan Minglin.
Tan Minglin, or Tan Xiaolin, was born in Lezhi County, Sichuan Province, and only made it as far as high school. In 1992, the 30-year-old man left Sichuan to work near the country’s border of Yunnan Province, and there, he got to know the Burmese drug trafficker Yang Guodong. Marrying Yang’s daughter and migrating to Myanmar in 1993, it didn’t take Tan long to set up his own drug trafficking operation.
Only two years later, Tan had set up a giant “professional” trafficking network connecting China and Myanmar, buying, transporting and selling narcotics. Tan and his traffickers were responsible for 60 percent of all the narcotics seized by Yunnan police in recent years.
Tan was captured by Burmese police on April 20, 2001, and at the request of Chinese police, he was handed over soon after that. Meanwhile, Yunnan police were also making breakthroughs in this case. Eighteen traffickers were arrested in Chongqing and Yunnan while six of their liaison stations and a number of communication instruments were destroyed.
“Tan Minglin and his gang have gone, but we still face great challenges in the anti-drug movement. As long as there is drug abuse, there will be the fight against it,” said Hong Bo.
Serious Drug Problems
According to statistics from the National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC), there were 1.05 million registered drug addicts in China by 2003, 5 percent more than the year before. Young people, idle laborers and the migrant population are the most likely to develop the habit. Around 72.2 percent of the registered addicts are younger than 35 and 643,000 are heroin users. Of the 2,863 counties and cities in China, 2,200 have a serious drug problem.
Besides heroin, more and more addicts are taking Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, MDMA), Ketamine (a central nervous system depressant popular in clubs) or a mix of these drugs, said Luo Feng, Vice Commissioner of NNCC. “We find that ecstasy is usually found in entertainment venues, like song and dance halls, cannabis addiction is rampant in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and large and medium-sized coastal cities, Pethidine (a pain reliever) is popular in the northeast, and CNB (caffeine and sodium benzoate) is widely abused in Shanxi Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the north,” said Luo.
Drug abuse has caused huge economic losses, Luo pointed out. “In a scenario where an addict took 0.3 grams of heroin everyday, at least 27 billion yuan ($3.26 billion) would be spent by registered drug addicts across China every year.”
Drug problems are the source of many crimes, which in turn places social security in jeopardy. Some 80 percent of male addicts steal, swindle or rob while 80 percent of female addicts are engaged in the prostitution activities. In some places drug addicts are involved in 60 to 80 percent of robbery or theft cases.
Drugs also do serious harm to the physical and psychological health of addicts. Since 1990, about 39,000 people have died of drugs and according to the Ministry of Health, nearly 55.3 percent of China’s 840,000 HIV carriers were infected with the deadly disease by sharing dirty syringes when intravenously injecting drugs.
Two Major Sources
Yang Fengrui, Executive Deputy Director of the Office of the NNCC, said the drug problems is getting more and more serious in China because the country is surrounded by two big drug production bases. The Golden Triangle, the world’s largest drug producer, lies to the southwest of China. The Golden Crescent, near the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, is another giant drug manufacturer to the northwest of China. Drugs from abroad force their way into China through almost every possible channel.
In 2003, drugs produced in the Golden Triangle reached 70 to 80 tons, most of which entered China overland across the border between China and Myanmar. It is no exaggeration to say that most of the drugs sold in China come from the Golden Triangle.
Yunnan Province, where China borders Myanmar, attracts a large number of drug traffickers. They make use of every possible means of transportation, including cars and trucks, human bodies, or even the postal service. To get away from police investigation, they even have developed a new transit route through India and Nepal to China. Large quantities of ice—an amphetamine type of stimulant—is secretly transited into China and finds a big market in China’s northeastern area. Since 1999, Chinese police have cracked 101 heroin-related cases, each involving more than 10 kg of heroin. Nearly 9 tons of this heroin came from the Golden Triangle.
The Golden Crescent poses another potential source of drug danger. At the end of last century, the Golden Crescent replaced the Golden Triangle as the world’s largest opium exporter. According to statistics from the United Nations, the opium output of the area reached 3,600 tons in 2003, and is predicted to exceed 4,000 tons in 2004. Cannabis and cocaine are two other major drugs produced in the Golden Crescent. While most of the products are smuggled to Europe, a part of them goes into areas in northwest China, like Xinjiang, Gansu and Shaanxi.
Apart from these two major sources, southeastern coastal China also sees the inflow of new types of drugs such as ice, ecstasy, and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).
Drug Crime Crack Down
A 40-year-old woman, with her child in her arms, walks hastily across the border check post in Mangxin, Yunnan Province on June 4, 2004. Her restlessness was not easy to detect, but it didn’t escape the questioning eyes of border police. More than 100 grams of heroin was later found in the clothes of her child.
“Drug lords like Tan Minglin no longer exist, but individual drug traffickers are still operating,” said Hong Bo.
Statistics from the NNCC show that in 2003, Chinese police cracked 94,000 drug-related criminal cases, arrested 63,700 criminals, and seized 9,530 kg of heroin, 5,830 kg of ice, 409,000 ecstasy tablets and 72,800 kg of chemicals that could be transformed into drugs.
China’s law poses harsh punishment for drug crimes. A death penalty is in force for criminals who are found guilty of selling drugs in quantities of more than 50 grams. But the huge profit of the drug business has made most criminals oblivious to the harsh penalties.
Drug addicts are another target group of the anti-drug effort. In 2003, drug addiction recovery centers helped 222,500 addicts, while “reeducation through labor” centers assisted 61,500 addicts. Counties and cities with more than 1,000 drug addicts make great efforts to promote “drug-free” communities and villages.
The drug-free community campaign was launched in August 1999. Now 27 drug-free counties have been created in Gansu Province, while Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has 29 such counties and 48,524 communities.
An important part of China’s anti-drug laws is the strict management of drug-related medicine and complete prohibition of drug abuse. More than 30 relevant laws and regulations have been announced to date. A tentative legal system against drug abuse has been set up, with the Criminal Law as the backbone and local administrative regulations as the supplementary.
Luo Feng said the growth rate for the number of drug users dropped from 13 percent in 2002 to 5 percent in 2003.
International cooperation is considered to be very important in the anti-drug movement, since drugs tend to move from one country to another.
China has spared no effort to cooperate with countries adjacent to the Golden Triangle, said Luo Feng. China has actively participated in anti-drug mechanisms with countries like Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and India.
In these international cooperative anti-drug mechanisms, China plays an important role in information exchange, joint police actions and anti-drug training. Four countries—China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand—carried out a large-scale drug investigation in the Mekong River area in 2003 and China has signed bilateral memorandums of understanding in anti-drug cooperation with Myanmar, Laos, Viet Nam and Thailand.
In 2003, police from China, Myanmar and Laos initiated 38 anti-drug operations, in which three drug-processing sites were destroyed and large quantities of narcotics were confiscated.
On February 12, 2004, China’s public security authority, together with its Philippine equivalent, cracked a transnational drug smuggling case, capturing five suspects and seizing 1.97 million yuan ($237,923) of illegal income, in addition to 296 kg of ice, worth nearly 100 million yuan ($12.08 million).
To completely get rid of the drug problem, the Chinese Government has launched the “green anti-drug project” with countries like Myanmar and Laos since the 1990s.
The project emphasizes the replacement of opium poppy plantations with grains and economically viable plants. To date, 30,000 hectares of grains have replaced opium poppy farming. Chinese local governments on the border with Myanmar devote both technology and capital to helping Burmese people develop industries like transportation, energy and tourism. In recent years, the size of opium poppy plantations in Myanmar and Laos has decreased by 24 and 15 percent respectively.
As for the fight against drug smuggling from the Golden Crescent, Luo Feng said China has reached agreements with members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on drug trafficking and is in the middle of negotiations with Iran and Russia concerning anti-drug action.