Sino-Burmese Border: Drug and AIDS menace as a security threat in Southeast Asia

By: Paramita Das

Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle are the two regions where different types of drug and opium are produced on a large scale. Golden Crescent covers Afghanistan and Pakistan. Golden Triangle includes a part of Southern China, Central Burma and parts of Thailand. Burma is playing the central role in drug trafficking and opium cultivation and bearing the maximum disastrous effect along with its neighbouring countries. This paper likes to discuss illegal drug trade and cultivation of opium at ChinaBurma border and how these are threatening security of the region and Burma’s ruling military junta’s seriousness towards it.

Since 1950s opium and drugs were sources of fund for many insurgent groups in the region. With the defeat of Kuomintang forces by the Peoples’ Republic of China the Kuomintang forces migrated to Burma and established its bases there. The Kuomintang forces depended on opium and heroin production to carry on their war against the PRC. On the other side of the border China used to support and provided different aids to the Communist Party of Burma. But with the coming of Deng Xiaoping in 1978 the Chinese policy of assistance to the CPB was withdrawn. Since then the opium production or drug trafficking became the lifeline of the CPB. In 1989 unity of the CPB was broke down and it resulted into the rise of different ethnic groups. These groups made ceasefire agreement with the then secretary general Khin Nyunt. According to the agreement they were allowed opium cultivation in return of promise not to raise arms against the junta in future. [i]Among these insurgent groups most important is the United Wa State Army which are dubbed by the U.S. State Department as the “world’s largest drug trafficking militia”. [ii]

Sociologically, the people engaged in drug trade and poppy cultivation in Burma are ethnic Chinese from Burma, Thailand and Hongkong. The Chinese Muslims of Hui nationalities are also engaged in drug trade. In Burma most of the ethnic people farmers of the Wa and Shan state are engaged in poppy cultivation. Without poppy cultivation their life would become standstill as it has happened in Wa state after the ban imposed by United Wa State Army in Wa region of northern Shan state in June, 2005. Now they are questioning the ban in Wa region (only). [iii]

There are different routes by which different types of drug are distributing drugs to different parts of Burma and to other Asian countries specially China, India, and Thailand. The first route begins from the Kokang and Mong Ko areas which pass through Chinese border towns of Wanding, Ruili and via it reaches Kunming.[iv] The second route leads from Kengtung area near the border towns with Laos, via Jinghong in Xishuangbanna to Kunming.” [v] Much of the amphetamines produced in Burma are shipped through Mekong river to China[vi] There are other routes by which drugs are coming to India every year. Geographically the first receivers among Indian states are North-East Indian states. The drug lords of these states receive brown sugar and heroin from Sagaing area in north-west Burma to Tamu near Manipur.[vii] Moreh in Manipur is one of the international trading centres. Drugs are taken to Mizoram from there via Koley and Tiddim.[viii] Petty traders from Manipur in India come to Mandalay to buy high grade No.4 heroin.[ix] There are other routes also to export drugs to India from Burma.

Burma is situated at the centre of all these routes since this country is the hub of poppy cultivation. It is grown in Shan, Kachin and Kayah states bordering China, Laos and Thailand.[x] Burma is the main amphetamine producer in Southeast Asia and the second largest opium producer in the world.[xi] Ninety percent of Burma’s opium poppy production takes place in Shan state. From there it can be quickly exported to China.

In 2004 Burma produced approximately 700 million amphetamine tablets. [xii] Amphetamines produced in Burma are trafficked to the countries which are sharing border with Burma, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos and China. Every year Thailand receives 900 million amphetamine pills from Burma through its northern border with Burma and Laos.[xiii] But Burma does not have factories which can produce chemicals essentially needed for production of different types of drugs. Here factories in India and China have filled up this gap. China is the biggest producer of numerous precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of amphetamines. [xiv] In India some companies based in Maharashtra are producer of precursor like ephedrine.[xv] Ephedrine first penetrated Burma from China in late 1996. More ephedrine imported from India in 1998 followed by caffeine and ATS production accessories from Thailand.[xvi]

In 2006 the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo said “at present the Sino-Myanmar border area is being flooded with drugs, posing a huge danger to the society and people.” [xvii] The Sino-Burmese border is flooded with people infected with HIV and AIDS virus. Other outcome of drug trafficking are weaponization of society and rise in crime related activities. According to the statistics of China the number of known drug addicts was increased 35% from 2000 to 1.2 million by early 2005.[xviii] There is rapid spread of HIV epidemics resulting from unsafe injections is well documented in countries in and around the Golden Triangle such as in Burma, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and more recently in Indonesia [xix] In the early 1990s, the outbreak of HIV epidemic began among ethnic minority community in three mountain districts along the Sino-Burma border specially among the Kachin, and the Wa ethnic groups. In China the Ministry of Health reported that the first HIV/AIDS cases appeared in China in 1985, and that of as 1997, only Yunnan province has reported more than 1000 cases mostly among minorities. [xx] According to the Chinese Government’s statistics of 2001 there had been around 600,000 to 800,000 people living with HIV/AIDS.[xxi]

In 2003 it was estimated by the Chinese government that there were 61.1% people who were infected in HIV through drug use. [xxii] The highest rate of HIV infection is prevalent in Yunnan, bordering Burma. This region is the birth place of HIV epidemic in China. There virus had spread among the non IDU (injecting drug users) also.[xxiii] (Bulletins on Narcotics pg.03) IDU were the first group in which the epidemic spread of HIV was detected in China, Burma, Indonesia, and Malaysia.[xxiv] (IBID) In Burma, the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) and the Ministry of Health of Burma identified drug use rates among township adults of 2-25% in 1995.[xxv]

If we look at India we will find the same picture. A recent report published by UNDOC there is ‘generalized epidemic’ of HIV among the injecting drug users among the North-East Indian states. India’s northeast-Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tripura are declared as one of the high risk zones in India with close to 100,000 people infected with HIV.[xxvi] The other neighbouring countries are also infected with this virus on a large scale.

Various measures are taken up to combat drug trafficking and AIDS menace in Sino-Burmese border by China, Burma, ASEAN and some NGOs also. In 1991 an agreement was signed between China and Burma. By this agreement China was putting pressure on Burma to curb drug trafficking in their border area. In 1993 Foreign Secretary of India Dixit had a meeting with the Burmese foreign ministry U Aye, where the need for cooperation in managing the common border between the two countries against drug trafficking, smuggling and insurgency was emphasized. [xxvii] In 1990 the Chinese authorities introduced stronger legislation and penalties including death sentences, beefed up narcotics police, collaborated with the (United States) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP).[xxviii] The most important step was imposition of ban on opium cultivation in United Wa State Army territories. The rigorous punishment including death sentence was announced for violation of this order. [xxix]

In 2004 China signed an accord with Burma to combat drug trafficking.[xxx] In 2005 a painstaking drug bust operation was taken spanning 11 months. In the operation police forces of four countries Burma, China, Laos and Thailand coordinated each other. As a result 70 suspects including Han Yongwan were arrested and more than 726 kilograms of heroin were seized.[xxxi]

China and its neighbours Southeast Asia vowed to further strengthen their cooperative efforts in fighting illicit drugs especially the increasing menace of amphetamine type stimulants (ATS) at the Second International Congress of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China Co-operative Operations in Response to Dangerous Drugs (ACCORD) on October 20., 2005.[xxxii] A press conference called by the State Peace and Development Council on October 23, 2005 it was said that “Myanmar does not ignore nor undutiful to the drug eradication measures as blamed groundlessly by pessimistic foreign countries and anti-organizations.” [xxxiii] As far as the operation of 2005 was concerned the SPDC had shown cooperation and willingness of Burma to eradicate drug business in the region.

Nevertheless drug trafficking and drug related crime are spreading on a large scale in the region. It jeopardizes public health, public security, economy and threatens security of the entire region. In China of the entire registered drug addict population 80% of male users were involved in other illegal activities, while 80% females worked as prostitutes.[xxxiv] In some areas drug addicts are engaged in 60% to 80% robberies and thefts. [xxxv] The rise in prostitution or sex industry is common in the entire region. Weaponization of the region is another threatening outcome of the entire region. Drugs are exchanged with weapons not only along the Sino-Burmese border but along the Nagaland-Burmese border also. Though United Wa State Army territories were banned from poppy cultivation hundred of poppy farmers of the region reportedly moved to Mawfa area under Burma Army Command. [xxxvi] On the west of the Salween, farmers continued cultivation under strict supervision of pro junta military forces.[xxxvii] Apparently it seems that on one hand SPDC is combating the menace of drug trafficking in the region but the evidence shows rather the SPDC’s deep rooted involvement in the drug trade too. Through its numerous ceasefire agreements the SPDC has allowed ethnic armies such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the United Democratic Alliance Army (UDAA) to carry on trade on narcotics.[xxxviii] Evidence exists that the UWSA is being used by the SPDC to carry war against diminishing Shan State Army[xxxix] On the other hand we find the since 1999 SPDC initiated its15 year Narcotics Eradication programme to meet the dead line of ASEAN drug free zone by 2015.[xl] But this drug eradication programme does not include eradication of amphetamine production. (xIi) This is one of the drawbacks of the programme. NGOs like Population Services International have come forward to spread condom education programme to protect themselves from the AIDS menace.[xlii]It is extremely difficult to work with such programme in a military state like Burma where ruling State Peace and Development Council does not provide encouragement towards sex education. For example, one of the Burmese actress Shwe Zen Twaik faced obstacles in her effort to combat AIDS and HIV in the country since her campaign did not get the entry in the state owned television. As a result she had to abandon the concerned programme.[xliii]

This is the horrible picture of Burma which is threatening security of the entire region. The Burmese people should be given proper education to make them aware of the worst outcome of the poppy cultivation, amphetamine production, and sex industry. The restoration of democracy in Burma is the urgent necessity and should be the first step to enlighten the people of Burma. But as long as the SPDC is in power to such enlightenment is not possible in Burma since the SPDC is one of the motivating sources for poppy cultivation, drug business behind the curtain of state owned drug eradication progamme. As long as the ruling junta would be in power the ASEAN dream of creation of a drug free zone would remain a distant dream.

(Ms. Paramita Das is presently affiliated as a Senior Research Scholar at the Southeast Asian & South-West Pacific Studies Division, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and working as a Lecturer in the Department of History, TDB College, Raniganj, University of Burdwan, West Bengal, India)


ENDNOTES:

 

[i] Arnott, David : China-Burma Relations, Challenges to Democratization in Burma, edited by Aung Zaw, IDEA, 2000 http://www.idea.int/asia_pacific/burma/upload/chap3.pdf

[ii] Black, Michael,: On Myanmar-China Border, Tensions Escalate Between SPDC, Narco-Militias, World Politics Watch, December 13,2006

[iii] Shan Drug Watch, June 2007, Issue I, pg.03

[iv] Stobdan, P., China’s Forays into Burma: Implications for India, Strategic Analysis, Vol 16, No.01, April 1993, p.25

[v] Ibid

[vi] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions,Vol. 4, April 2007, Burma, p.08

[vii] Nishit, Border Affairs,Vol.07, No.01, October-December 2005.pg.26

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Beyrer,C.,Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV), infection rate and heroine trafficking fearful symmetries, Offprint fromBulletin on Narcotics No. LIV, Nos. 1 and 2, 2002, p. 107

[x] Singh, Swaran,: The Sinicization of Myanmar and its Implications for India, Issues and Studies:33, No.1,January 1997, p.122

[xi] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions, Vol. 4, April 2007, p.06

[xii] Ibid, p.07

[xiii] Ibid, p.08

[xiv] Ibid, p.08

[xv] Nishit, : How Drugs are brought and sold in India, Border Affairs, October-December 2005, Vol.07, No.01, pg. 28

[xvi] Third Session of the 24th Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies of Asia and Pacific Region, November 16, 2000

[xvii] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions,Vol. 4, April 2007,pg.11

[xviii] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions,Vol. 4, April 2007,pg.11

[xix] Beyrer,C.,Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV), infection rate and heroine trafficking fearful symmetries, Offprint fromBulletin on Narcotics No. LIV, Nos. 1 and 2, 2002, p. 104

[xx] Feingold, David A., Sex, Drugs and the IMF: Some Implications of ‘Structural Readjustment’ for the Trade in Heroin, Girls and Women in the Upper Mekong Region, New Cargo: The Global Business of Trafficking in Women”, a special issue of Refuge, Vol. 17, No.05, 1998, November, p.03

[xxi] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions,Vol 4, April,2007,p.12

[xxii] Ibid

[xxiii] Breyer ,C.,Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV), infection rate and heroine trafficking fearful

symmetries, Offprint fromBulletin on Narcotics No. LIV, Nos. 1 and 2, 2002, p.105

[xxiv] Ibid

[xxv] Ibid

[xxvi] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions,Vol 4, April,2007, p.14

[xxvii] Ghoshal, Baladas, Trends in China-Burma Relations, China Report 30:2, 1994, Sage Publications, new Delhi, p.200-201

[xxviii] Arnott, David, China-Burma Relations, Challenges to Democratization in Burma edited by Aung Zaw, IDEA, 2000, ://www.idea.int/asia_pacific/burma/upload/chap3.pdf

[xxix] Shan Drug Watch, June 2007, issue 01, p.03

[xxx] China, Myanmar sign border security accord, Agence Frnace-Presse-December 05, 2004
http://www.aegis.com/news/afp/2004/AF041245.html
)

[xxxi] Zhuqing, Jiang, Joint Action Helps Bust Cross Border Drug Ring, China Daily, October 19, 2005, Hong Kong

[xxxii] Zhuqing, Jiang, China, ASEAN step up war against drugs,China Daily, October 21, 2005

[xxxiii] mrtv3.net.mm/news/2310press.html

[xxxiv] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions, Vol. 04, April 2007, p.11

[xxxv] Ibid

[xxxvi] Shan Drug Watch, June 2007, Issue I,p.15

[xxxvii] Ibid

[xxxviii] Burma Issues and Concerns: The Security Dimensions, Vol. 04, April 2007, p.16

[xxxix] Ibid

[xl] Ibid

[xli] Ibid

[xlii] Selling Safer Sex in Conservative Burma, Aung Htet, September 1, 2007 http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=8461

[xliii] http://him.civiblog.org/blog/_archives/2007/8/16/3161290.html)

(THE END)

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2 Comments on “Sino-Burmese Border: Drug and AIDS menace as a security threat in Southeast Asia”


  1. […] Sino-Burmese Border: Drug and AIDS menace as a security threat in …In the operation police forces of four countries Burma, China, Laos and Thailand coordinated each other. As a result 70 suspects including Han Yongwan were arrested and more than 726 kilograms of heroin were seized.[xxxi] … […]


  2. Sino-Burmese Border: Drug and AIDS menace as a security threat. There is rapid spread of HIV epidemics resulting from unsafe injections is well documented in countries in and around the Golden Triangle such as in Burma, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and more recently in Indonesia…


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