SMUGGLING is resurging as a multimillion-dollar business between
Hong Kong and mainland China just months after a crackdown
temporarily disrupted the lucrative trade.
Laden with TV sets and video players bound for China, fleets of
bulletproof, armor-plated speedboats are again rocketing past
slower Hong Kong police patrols - or deliberately ramming them.
"There has been a resurgence of high-powered speedboat smuggling
in coastal areas all along southeastern China," says Tong King-san,
deputy director of Hong Kong's customs and excise department.
"I don't think we'll ever stop it," says Superintendent John
Thomson, a senior member of Hong Kong's Anti-Smuggling Task Force.
"The epidemic is still in progress.... We just want to keep it
The aggressive comeback of smuggling illustrates the growing
challenges to law and order in Hong Kong as China prepares to take
over the British colony in 1997. The territory is entering a
vulnerable transition time as British military forces prepare to
withdraw and leave Hong Kong's police in charge of security.
"Obviously, uncertainty over 1997 is a big factor," says Chief
Superintendent of Police Vince Chapman, asked about police morale
and recruitment problems. "A lot of the guys will have to stay,
come what may."
The smuggling rings depend on two powerful forces: Hong Kong
organized crime syndicates, or "triads," which organize and finance
the rings, and corrupt Chinese mainland officials, who facilitate
them, police here say.
With networks reaching from executives in wingtips down to
villagers in rubber sandals, some 20 triads run smuggling rings in
the territory. Triads control companies that supply goods for
smuggling, truckers who transport cargos to docks, and
fishermen-spies on sampans who monitor police boat movements,
police say. (See story, below.)
Across the border, mainland Chinese authorities are tolerating
or abetting the smuggling, and sometimes even clash with Hong Kong
In one recent run-in, uniformed mainland Chinese forced Hong
Kong police at gunpoint to abandon a late-night pursuit of
smugglers in the colony's waters. The Nov. 19 incident alarmed Hong
Kong legislators, sparking protests against Beijing.
China's lenience toward smugglers essentially foiled a Hong Kong
campaign last spring to halt their activities. Last April, Hong
Kong outlawed the customized, 1,500 horsepower speedboats,
confiscating dozens of them at a cost of millions to builders. New
laws also hiked the maximum fine for smuggling 50-fold and
increased the jail term from six months to two years.
The smugglers quickly relocated along the southern coast of
China, and China dismantled an anti-smuggling group formed to
assist Hong Kong's crackdown, police here say. …