In a hidden corner of Asia, where two dramatically different and rapidly changing nations collide, a disturbing trade is taking hold that is endangering lives around the world.
With money to burn, China’s non-stop party people are turning to drugs in unprecedented numbers, turning neighbouring Myanmar into a meth lab and driving a resuscitation of the bad old days of big-time trade in the Golden Triangle’s devastating narcotic heroin.
The epic size and industrial scale of the new Asian drug supply is staggering. Intercepts of the methamphetamine Ice or the ingredients necessary for its manufacture are toted up in tonnages. But given authorities only manage to uncover a fraction of the trade that begins in Myanmar, and pours into China, a deadly dangerous drug is in overwhelming flood.
Heroin and other dangerous drug traffic are tearing out of a newly unshackled Myanmar and into booming, cashed-up China, infecting towns and big cities that have not experienced a rampant, deadly drug culture before. Beyond China, narcotics and amphetamines are streaming out to western markets.
Reporter Stephen McDonell takes us right into the heart of the tear-away trade, on patrol with China’s drug police struggling against the tide of illicit drugs often carried by poor Myanmar mules prepared to risk everything for a couple of hundred dollars.
McDonell slips across the porous border to observe the trade from its source, heading into newly-afflicted communities where heroin and amphetamine use is metastasising and then reaches big cities like Shanghai where, unlike previous generations, China’s partying young are driving a booming market in so-called recreational drugs.
One credible report estimates the number of registered drug addicts has grown from 70,000 in 1990 to nearly two million about a year ago. The number of regular drug users may be as high as 12 million. It is a massive new market for the drug dealers of Myanmar and beyond and if it continues to grow exponentially, it is a social, health and legal time bomb for Chinese authorities.
101 East secured unprecedented access to China’s drug cops and at a key checkpoint near the Myanmar-China border they are in full flight. Pulling over cars and buses targeting suspicious characters and unlikely drug mules alike.
On one tour bus that just crossed in from Myanmar, the team clambers aboard checking bags, compartments and asking rapid-fire questions. Soon a woman with a young child emerges with the officers. She is carrying a plastic shopping bag containing a handful of condoms filled with Ice – the super-charged methamphetamine that is infiltrating China’s party scene and that is being shipped out to more lucrative international destinations.
Another bus arrives and a young man is identified, questioned and escorted to a scanner that soon reveals he is carrying condoms of ice internally. Another relatively small haul in the scheme of things, but these are minor cogs in a mega-industrial complex.
It is a drugs boom-time that has exploded out of a newly relaxed Myanmar, a ravenous developing Chinese drug culture and the super profits that come from deliveries to markets in developed economies.
Can China’s drug cops bust the booming #meth trade from neighbouring Myanmar? @AJ101East #TheOtherChinaBoom
This film was first broadcast on Al Jazeera English in December 2013.