Tracing Southeast Asia’s Illicit Drug Supply Chain: Joining the Dots

In recent years, the illicit drug trade in Southeast Asia is becoming more integrated within the region as well as with the wider Asia Pacific region. With a well-greased supply chain to meet an ever-increasing demand, criminals are turning the regional drug trade into an underground economy that can rival the GDP of some small countries. By Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade

Originally, there was a number of drug cartels operating in neighboring China but with heavy suppression from the authority, they have been forced to migrate into Shan State in Northeastern Myanmar.

Drug cartels operating in Myanmar are in partnership with the local militia and armed ethnic groups, where presumably, protection and safe passage are given to the manufacturing and trafficking activities in areas they controlled. In return, the cartels provide capital and access to overseas drug markets.

According to intelligence reports, many of these cartels, including the financiers, originated outside of the region and are based in Macau, Hong Kong, China, and Thailand with chemists coming from Taiwan.

Effectively, Myanmar, where there is a lack of both government’s will to take on major drug groups and serious commitment against money laundering, has become one of the world’s largest producers of synthetic drugs, which are trafficked throughout the region, including East Asia, South Asia and as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. Chemical precursors, vital to the production of synthetic drugs, are mainly sourced from China and India.

Myanmar is also the world’s second largest producer of illicit opium with an estimated poppy cultivation totaling 41,000 hectares in 2017, a decrease of 25 percent from the last survey in 2015. Shan State is the source of 91 percent of Myanmar’s poppy cultivation.

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