Global Triads: Myth or Reality?
Yiu Kong Chu
There is general agreement that the Italian mafia is no longer the dominant force of the international criminal underworld (Reuter 1995). Other groups—Hong Kong triads, Japanese Yakuza, Colombian cartels, the Russian mafia, Vietnamese gangs, Jamaican yardies—have emerged as major challengers within global organized crime. Among these emergent groups, some observers foresee Hong Kong triads—the so-called Chinese mafia—acquiring a dominant position in the international underworld. Jim Moody, the chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Department for Combating Organized Crime, claims: “The Chinese Mafia is the second strongest in the world, behind the Cosa Nostra. Today, eighty-seven of its groups have been identified, numbering over 100,000 persons” (Osenev 1998).
The proposition that Hong Kong triads are set to assume a dominant position in the international criminal underworld is based on four assumptions. First, since triads have been found in most of the world's overseas Chinese communities, triad activity is automatically and readily “globalized. ” Hong Kong, the triad “global headquarters, ” directs these overseas “branches” in different kinds of criminal activities. Second, Chinese criminals have been very active in heroin trafficking, human smuggling, and economic organized crime, and Hong Kong triads are said to be the main organizers of these international projects. Third, triad criminals will willingly go anywhere that easy money can be made. Fourth, it is assumed that Hong Kong's reversion to Chinese rule in 1997 prompted mass triad emigration to the West, significantly increasing the risks triads pose to Western societies. In short, triads are believed to have become one of the most significant organized crime threats confronting Western law-enforcement agencies.