China now has all the advantage to reap the best out of the emerging illegal drugs economy for its ever expanding influence in the South and Southeast Asian region.
By Khorjei Laang
When the Congress Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Kangujam Ranjit Singh urged the members of the house to enact a stringent law that can award capital punishment or life imprisonment to the lawbreakers arrested in connection with illegal drug trade, he was echoing the exact feeling of an average informed citizen in Manipur who have been weighing the sheer vainness of official campaigns undertaken by the state apparatus.
The MLA while trying to project the palpable despondency of the people on the “War on Drugs” on the opening day of the Second Session of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Session on July 25 remarked that few years ago, drugs seized in Imphal Airport, Pallel or other areas of Manipur were mainly trafficked from the golden triangle countries like Laos, Thailand and Myanmar but now, drug is manufactured in Manipur itself. He then pointed out how the hill areas Manipur have been denuded to make way for mass poppy plantations for onward production of contraband drugs. He emphasized that the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 or NDPS Act, 1985 has not been able to curb drug smuggling in the state of Manipur.
Kangujam Ranjit Singh while lauding the BJP led government’s “War on Drugs” campaign as it was receiving support from different communities and tribes, unequivocally remarked that an endorsement of the campaign by some community leaders could not halt mass poppy plantation in the state. While the concern raised by the MLA in the august house too hit the front pages of many state and regional dailies, one feels that there is still the need to ponder on the issue taking into consideration the global drug economy. When the MLA referred to the Golden Triangle countries like Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, he was speaking the obvious.
China and Illegal drug economy in Southeast Asia: Who controls it?
A report published by United States (US) Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice way back in April 2007 had already captured certain uncomfortable facts in our neighbourhood.
This report titled “The Chinese Connection: Cross-border Drug Trafficking between Myanmar and China” presented findings from a two-year field study of drug trafficking activities between Myanmar (formerly Burma) and China. The report has data generated through interviews conducted with “law enforcement officials, community contacts and informants, incarcerated drug traffickers, active street drug dealers, drug addicts, as well as with other researchers in the field. Observations were made both inside the Golden Triangle and the surrounding regions”. What is worrisome is the reference to the “surrounding regions”.
The report said that since 2000, the US has practically ceased to provide any financial support to assist the Myanmar government or other international organizations working in the country in reducing opium poppy cultivation and heroin production. This basically means an unabated proliferation of poppy cultivation and heroin production in the Indo-Myanmar region as a result of failed concerted effort to deal with the situation.
“The absence of any involvement in Myanmar’s anti-narcotic efforts only tarnishes the US image as playing politics at the expense of legitimate law enforcement cooperation, which only further diminishes the American influence in the region”, said the report. With the diminishing influence as stated, China has taken anticipated action to bring about greater stimulus to either combatting the massive opium poppy cultivation and heroin production process or take unprecedented hold and advantage over the issue in Myanmar and neighbouring countries.
China now has all the advantage to reap the best out of the given situation for its ever expanding influence in the Southeast Asian region. This despite, the harsh punishment and the totalitarian political regimes in both China and Myanmar. There is still a large trafficking organizations in China and Myanmar. It must be remembered that the major opium and heroin-producing area in Myanmar is located in the Shan State occupied by various ethnic armed groups and China reportedly can exert influence in the area.
The report however said entrepreneurs of Chinese decent remain active in drug manufacturing and distributing activities in Southeast Asia. This study provided first hand data depicting how Chinese drug traffickers operated in the Golden Triangle and surrounding countries. “Law enforcement sources in the region seemed to agree that one can find Chinese nationals in almost all major drug raids. Our contacts in Myanmar claimed that almost all major traffickers and distributors of illicit drugs are Chinese. One ranking intelligence official with the Australian Federal Police noted, – Most major drug manufacturing and trafficking activities in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the Pacific region are linked to Chinese criminals. Chinese criminal entrepreneurs have long demonstrated their ability to develop new market opportunities and forge business partnerships with people of different ethnic backgrounds”, according to the report.
Activities of golden triangle shift to Northeast India
Even if one takes the US report with a pinch of salt, there is no denying the fact that the practice, nature and process of massive opium/poppy cultivation has now shifted to Northeast India and Manipur from the notorious Golden Triangle covering border areas between Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. The emerging trend in the Northeast of India does not bode well for the future of Northeast India and South East Asia and even the rest of India. Global observers have also argued that current drug economy in the Indian subcontinent is directly or indirectly controlled by people with China connections.
India with unfriendly neighbours including China and Pakistan can indeed become the victims of its own weakness for not controlling the spiralling spread of illegal drugs as soft and hard measures to settle political and economic score. “Intelligence reports have flagged Pakistan’s dependence on narcotics trade for terror funding as, after demonetisation, using fake Indian currency notes is no more a viable option for Pakistan-based entities”, says Rahul Tripathi, Editor, The Economic Times.
There are also reports that Pakistan used golden crescent to fund Indian based armed militants. And the Red Dragon (China) is not far behind if one goes by reports of China using India’s own territory to capture political economy of the whole subcontinent. However, one must take heed that the current drug syndicate in Asia is far more sophisticated than any Latin American cartel.
Asian syndicate controlled from China is pumping tonnes of methamphetamine, heroin and ketamine to at least a dozen countries from Japan in North Asia to New Zealand in the South Pacific.
A report of Manipur Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB) department says that 963 drug traffickers were arrested including 768 men and 195 women under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act from 27 April till June 2019. The state provides information that around 3,716 acres of illegal poppy plantation and 5.51 acres of ganja were destroyed as part of war on drugs. “This when calculated in terms of money would have cost around Rs. 260 crore. The destruction drive is mostly conducted by joint teams of Manipur Police, Assam Rifles and Narcotics Department and at times various civil society organisations, student unions also take part in the drives”.
Those who are well versed with the concept of Narco-State know that governments can be directly or indirectly controlled by drug mafia. “We all know what all institutions can drug money reach today. Important Northeastern states are under complete grip and control by illegal drugs traders taking pivotal role in proliferation of the same in South Asia. These states are not controlled by New Delhi as it appears to be. Being funded and part of international drug syndicate, these states are controlled by China and hence its leaders are indirectly picked by China, although apparently they seem to be chosen by New Delhi. We know how drug money is funding the so called representatives of the people in one way or the other. And who knows how they can influence people’s representatives both at the state and national levels in India”, says an analyst who does not want to be identified. The same person has also closely observed the unfolding of illegal drugs trade in the state of Manipur and had opined that facts and circumstances can be twisted to protect the primary accused or ring leaders in many drug related cases. If views expressed by the analyst is proven true, the present and future political economy of Northeast or even India can be severely damaged with no point of return. And the time to act is now and ponder on the question – where does India’s national security stand in relation to illegal drugs and the overarching influence of China in South or South East Asia?