Transnational Organized Crime in East Asia and the Pacific: A Threat Assessment

This report is one of several studies conducted by UNODC on organized crime threats around the world. These studies describe what is known about the mechanics of contraband trafficking - the what, who, how, and how much of illicit flows - and discuss their potential impact on governance and development. Their primary role is diagnostic, but they also explore the implications of these findings for policy.

Executive Summary

East Asia and the Pacific have experienced rapid economic and social changes during the past few decades and faced the considerable regulation challenges these changes create for public authorities. This report takes a look at the manner in which criminal enterprises have developed alongside legitimate commerce in recent years. Drawing on official statistics, academic studies, and interviews with law enforcement officials, it attempts to outline something about the mechanics of illicit trade: the how, where, when, who, and why of selected contraband markets affecting the region. It also endeavours to give the best reading of the available data on the size of these markets. Though the list of contraband markets discussed is not comprehensive and it is impossible to quantify the value of these markets with any precision, these estimates are offered to prompt public debate on areas of great public policy significance.

( For more, see 'Executive summary')

Introduction

This report is one of a series of transnational organized crime threat assessments UNODC has carried out in the framework of its regional programme approach. Like the rest of the world, East Asia and the Pacific has experienced rapid economic and social change during the past few decades and faces considerable regulatory challenges posed by this change. This report reviews the manner in which criminal enterprises have developed alongside legitimate commerce in recent years. Drawing on official statistics, academic studies, and interviews with law enforcement officials, it attempts to outline the mechanics of trade: the how, where, when, who, and why of the contraband markets affecting the region. It also endeavours to give the best reading of the available data on the size of selected markets. Though the list of contraband markets discussed is not comprehensive and it is impossible to quantify the value of these markets with any precision, these estimates are offered to prompt public debate on areas of great public policy significance.

( For more, see 'Introduction')

Smuggling of migrants and labour trafficking within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region

This chapter deals with two areas of crime usually regarded as distinct: the trafficking of labourers and the smuggling of migrants. In common parlance, the words "trafficking" and "smuggling" are often interchanged, but they are different processes. For this reason, when the international community designed the UN convention on transnational organized crime, the need to prohibit two independent offences was recognized. "Trafficking" defines conscious acts that lead to and create situations in which people are forced to work against their will, while "smuggling" is the act of assisting irregular migration, motivated by material or financial gain.

Within the Greater Mekong Subregion, however, the two offences are closely interlinked. Away from their home communities and in their 'host' country illegally, smuggled migrants have little basis for asserting their rights as workers, including the basic right to be paid for their labour. Moreover, what begins as a voluntary search for a better life can often descend into exploitation and slavery.

( For more, see 'Smuggling of migrants and labour trafficking within the Greater Mekong Sub Region')

Trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region

Prostitution is found everywhere, but there is a smaller subset of countries whose markets have the power to attract participants, both clients and sex workers, from neighbouring countries and beyond. When there are not enough sex workers to keep up with demand, those profiting from the trade may import labour by deception and by force.

( For more, see 'Trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region')

Migrant smuggling from East and Southeast Asia to the United States and the European Union

Due to the prominence of China and Viet Nam as source countries typifying these flows, this chapter will focus almost exclusively on these two states. Though migration to Europe and the United States is nothing new, China's economic reforms of the 1980s greatly increased migrant flows. The Chinese-born population in the United States, for example, has grown five-fold since 1980, rising to 2.2 million people in 2010. Viet Nam is, in many ways, following in the footsteps of China. Its economy is growing nearly as fast, and export oriented industries have fed emigration.

( For more, see 'Migrant smuggling from East and Southeast Asia to the United States and the European Union')

Migrant smuggling from South and West Asia through Southeast Asia to Australia and Canada

The dynamics behind the smuggling of migrants from the Middle East as well as West and South Asia are complex because a large proportion of smuggled migrants are either refugees or intend to claim asylum upon reaching their destination. Consequently, the smuggling of asylum-seekers presents particular policy challenges for destination countries, such as Australia and Canada. On the one hand, such destination countries need to maintain sovereign control over their borders and manage the flow of irregular migrants. On the other hand, these countries are also obliged, through their international commitments, to respect the rights of asylum-seekers and protect refugees.

The main focus of this chapter is on the smuggling of migrants from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, and Sri Lanka, and stateless individuals who travel through Southeast Asia in order to enter Australia and Canada by sea. Of the irregular maritime arrivals who lodge asylum applications in Australia, the majority are from the aforementioned four countries. Canadian authorities are currently largely concerned about the smuggling of Sri Lankan Tamils by sea after two boats were intercepted in 2009 and 2010.

( For more, see 'Migrant smuggling from South and West Asia through Southeast Asia to Australia and Canada')

Trafficking of opiates from Myanmar and Afghanistan into East Asia and the Pacific

A century ago, the world confronted the single largest drug problem ever to have been recorded: Chinese opium addiction. By a variety of means, this problem was almost entirely resolved by the middle of the 20th Century." In recent years, unfortunately, there has been a resurgence of opiate use in China. Opium in still consumed, but the main opiate problem in the 21st century involves the more refined form of the drug: heroin. Today, China accounts for around 16% of the world's heroin users. Consuming between 46 and 60 tons of heroin per year, China represents one of the largest national illicit heroin markets globally. Over one million heroin users are officially registered in China, and the number is rising. Most of these users inject the drug, constituting what is probably the single largest injecting drug user (IDU) population in the world.

Other countries of the region are also experiencing high and rising levels of heroin use. Opiate users also account for the majority of problem drug users in a number of countries in the region, including Viet Nam, Myanmar, Mongolia, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. In response to the 2010 United Nations Annual Reports Questionnaire, six countries from the region - China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam - reported increasing heroin use. There are presently an estimated 3.3 million heroin users in East Asia and the Pacific, and the number is expected to continue to rise.

( For more, see 'Trafficking of opiates from Myanmar and Afghanistan into East Asia and the Pacific')

Trafficking of methamphetamines from Myanmar and China to the region

East Asia and the Pacific have a long history with methamphetamine. It was first synthesized in Japan, and it became available over-the-counter throughout the region in the 1950s and 1960s. When the sale of the pharmaceutical was suspended, a street version known as yaba or "crazy medicine" began to appear. The popularity of yaba has waxed and waned over the years, but by the late 1980s the illicit manufacture and use of yaba was expanding significantly in the region. This history may explain why consumption of pill-form methamphetamine retains its popularity in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, more so than in other places around the world.

( For more, see 'Trafficking of methamphetamines from Myanmar and China to the region')

The illegal wildlife trade in East Asia and the Pacific

The harvesting of natural resources is basic to every day human life. The global exchange of wild plants and animals provides us with food, pharmaceuticals, building materials, decorative objects, clothing, cultural and religious items, and pets. In 2008, the combined global value of legally traded commodities derived from wild plants and animals was approximately US$24.5 billion.

( For more, see 'The illegal wildlife trade in East Asia and the Pacific')

Illicit trade in wood-based products from the region to the world

Economic growth and globalization have drawn immense amounts of resources from rural East Asia and the Pacific. Among these are wood-based products, including timber and paper. Since 2005, the annual global trade in wood-based products measures around 1.3 billion cubic meters, with an import value of around US$350 billion per year. About half (45%) of the value of the trade is in timber products (logs, plywood and furniture) and the remainder in paper products (wood chips, pulp and paper).

( For more, see 'Illicit trade in wood-based products from the region to the world')

Illicit trade in electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) from the world to the region

Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Globally, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that up to 50 million tons of e-waste is generated every year, with only 10% of it being recycled.

( For more, see 'Illicit trade in electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) from the world to the region')

Illicit trade in ozone-depleting substances (ODS) from East Asia to the world

All life depends on the ozone layer to shield the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation. In the 1980s, global concern over the thinning of the ozone layer, caused by emissions of a range of chemical gases, led to the signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987. This landmark multilateral environmental agreement regulates the gradual phase-out of ozone-depleting substances (ODS). These are principally chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) (which are mainly used for refrigeration and air-conditioning), halons (used for fire-fighting) and methyl bromide (used as a crop fumigant).

( For more, see 'Illicit trade in ozone-depleting substances (ODS) from East Asia to the world')

Counterfeit consumer goods from East Asia to the United States and the European Union

In today's fast-paced, globalized world, a significant share of manufactured goods are produced though a decentralized process, making use of a variety of specialized subcontractors. As a result, any given product can be produced by a series of collaborators, and a large number of people can access technical specifications, either directly or through reverse engineering.

( For more, see 'Counterfeit consumer goods from East Asia to the United States and the European Union')

Fraudulent essential medicines from East Asia to Southeast Asia and Africa

This chapter refers to fraudulent medicines, not counterfeit medicines, and this choice of terminology is important. "Counterfeit" is often used to refer to falsely-branded or unlicensed products, where the crime involved is intellectual property theft. In contrast, the act of deceiving buyers as to the content of what they are buying is fraud. This includes misbranding, but is broader, and - crucially - encompasses products that do not contain what they purport to contain.

In the context of pharmaceuticals, fraud is a very serious matter indeed. When sick people are not properly medicated, two things can happen. One, they don't get better, and the inappropriate medicine may even make them worse. The best doctors in the world cannot provide healing when they don't know what is in the drugs they are administering. Two, when antimicrobial drugs are given in insufficient doses to kill the pathogen, drug resistant strains can develop, posing a global health threat.

( For more, see 'Fraudulent essential medicines from East Asia to Southeast Asia and Africa')

Press Release

English

Overview

Human trafficking and smuggling of migrants: Four of the 12 illicit flows reviewed in this report involve human beings. The first two concern movement between the countries of the region, one for general labour and one for sexual exploitation. The third concerns the smuggling of migrants from the region to the rich countries of the West, and the last focuses on migrants smuggled through the region from the poor and conflicted countries of South and Southwest Asia.

Drug trafficking: The production and use of opiates has a long history in the region, but the main opiate problem in the 21st century involves the more refined form of the drug: heroin. In addition, methamphetamine has been a threat in parts of East Asia for decades (in the form of yaba tablets), but crystal methamphetamine has recently grown greatly in popularity. Virtually every country in the region has some crystal methamphetamine users, and some populations consume at very high levels.

Resources: Resource-related crimes include those related to both extractive industries, such as the illegal harvesting of wildlife and timber, and other crimes that have a negative impact on the environment, such as the dumping of e-waste and the trade in ozone-depleting substances. In all cases, the threat goes beyond borders, jeopardizing the global environmental heritage. These are therefore crimes of inherent international significance, though they are frequently dealt with lightly under local legislation.

Counterfeit goods: The trade in counterfeit goods is often perceived as a "soft" form of crime, but can have dangerous consequences for public health and safety. Fraudulent medicines in particular pose a threat to public health, and their use can foster the growth of treatment resistant pathogens.

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