China Wages War on Opium Trade Drug Traffic from Burma to US Thrives While Chinese Narcotics Crimes Rise

By Sheila Tefft, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

China Wages War on Opium Trade Drug Traffic from Burma to US Thrives While Chinese Narcotics Crimes Rise


Sheila Tefft, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


WU LIN is a casualty of China's losing battle against drugs. Mr. Wu is in the Kunming Forced Detoxification Center, nestled in the hills just outside the Yunnan provincial capital of Kunming, for his second attempt to kick the drug habit. His first try a year ago lasted only a few months.

"My family is paying for me this time," says the truck driver and heroin addict, who looks older than his 28 years. "I'm afraid I might start again when I get out."

Perched on China's southern border just across from the lush mountain poppy fields of Burma, also known as Myanmar, Yunnan Province is China's front line in the increasing drug abuse and violent narcotics trafficking spreading across China.

Antidrug police here claim they have made headway against the drug flow from Burma through China to the United States and Europe by passing new laws and tougher penalties. They're also bolstering enforcement to more than 2,000 police officials, cooperating more closely with other countries, and stepping up compulsory drug treatment.

In May, China agreed with five Southeast Asian countries to launch a $10 million joint-action plan to coordinate narcotics enforcement and control chemicals used in drug production. The program operates under the United Nations, which provided $3 million to Yunnan for its antinarcotics fight.

Growing all over

Officials claim heroin and opium hauls fell 19 percent and 45 percent respectively from 1993 to last year, virtually curbing drug movement through Yunnan. The 39,000 registered drug addicts in the province represent a one-third drop from 1990 levels. Police also insist that narcotics plants are not grown here, although they admit to having a crop-substitution program. Marijuana can be seen growing in many rural areas.

"The drugs transiting in our province are decreasing," says Chen Cunyi, the province's drug-enforcement chief.

But other officials in Yunnan and Beijing admit the drug crisis is worsening: Trafficking thrives under the eye of corrupt local officials, almost 90 percent of patients in police-run treatment centers relapse, and drug-related crime approaches epidemic proportions throughout China.

In May, Public Security Minister Tao Siju admitted that Yunnan is a haven for international drug rings and that the quantities of seized narcotics was actually growing. He told a meeting of senior leaders that "urgent efforts are needed to crush the country's increasing drug crimes," reported the official China Daily.

China needs to "organize a battle of the whole society against drugs," says Jiang Pusheng, a police official who heads the Yunnan Narcotics Control Commission. "We have reduced the number of new users in our province and made great progress in the narcotics-control field. But the fact is the source of drugs is outside our country. So the problem is still very serious."

"Drugs are the major cause of rising crime in China," says a Western diplomat familiar with China's drug-enforcement efforts. "Every province now has a detoxification center, showing how widely the drug problem has spread."

Along with addiction, a dangerous offshoot, acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS is also on the rise in China. With intravenous drug use spreading beyond Burmese border communities to coastal and other inland provinces, Chinese health officers admit that the number of AIDS-infection cases, officially estimated at 1,500, is probably closer to 10,000.

Stunned by the resurgence of the drug problem that thrived under imperial and nationalist governments but was virtually wiped out after the Communist victory in 1949, Chinese authorities maintain a rigid approach to dealing with such complicated social issues. For decades, Communist officials pointed to the eradication of opium as well as other prerevolutionary vices such as prostitution and gambling as evidence of the superior morality of socialism. …

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