The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle: Inside Southeast Asia's Drug Trade

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Golden Triangle
    Book Description:

    The Golden Triangle region that joins Burma, Thailand, and Laos is one of the global centers of opiate and methamphetamine production. Opportunistic Chinese businessmen and leaders of various armed groups are largely responsible for the manufacture of these drugs. The region is defined by the apparently conflicting parallel strands of criminality and efforts at state building, a tension embodied by a group of individuals who are simultaneously local political leaders, drug entrepreneurs, and members of heavily armed militias.

    Ko-lin Chin, a Chinese American criminologist who was born and raised in Burma, conducted five hundred face-to-face interviews with poppy growers, drug dealers, drug users, armed group leaders, law-enforcement authorities, and other key informants in Burma, Thailand, and China. The Golden Triangle provides a lively portrait of a region in constant transition, a place where political development is intimately linked to the vagaries of the global market in illicit drugs.

    Chin explains the nature of opium growing, heroin and methamphetamine production, drug sales, and drug use. He also shows how government officials who live in these areas view themselves not as drug kingpins, but as people who are carrying the responsibility for local economic development on their shoulders.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5843-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Into the Thick of It
    (pp. 1-7)

    Burma is the second largest opium-producing country in the world after Afghanistan.¹ Within Burma, most of the opium is grown in the Wa area of northeastern Shan State.² Very few people have had access to the Wa area. The sale of opium, as well as the heroin and methamphetamine that is also produced there, enriches a small minority of merchants. But it also goes to fund the growth of the nascent Wa State, supporting the building of infrastructure and state institutions.

    Most people know very little about the everyday people that produce and distribute drugs. This book explores the drug...

  5. Chapter One The Golden Triangle and Burma
    (pp. 8-16)

    One of the world’s major opium cultivation and heroin producing areas is the Golden Triangle, a 150,000-square-mile, mountainous region located where the borders of Burma, Laos, and Thailand meet (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2006). In the 1990s, it was estimated that Burma produced more than 50 percent of the world’s raw opium and refined as much as 75 percent of the world’s heroin (Southeast Asian Information Network 1998). During that time, Burma was also the largest source of heroin for the U.S. market, responsible for 80 percent of the heroin available in New York City (U.S. Senate...

  6. Chapter Two The Wa
    (pp. 17-46)

    The Wa area is located in the Shan State of Burma (or Myanmar) and its official name is Myanmar Shan State No. 2 Special Region (Wa government). The Wa leaders refer to their region as the Wa State, to the dismay of Burmese authorities who have long resisted the idea that the Wa was a sovereign “state” or province, but was, instead, merely a special region.¹ There are other special regions in the Shan State, including the Myanmar Shan State No. 1 Special Region (Kokang government), the No. 3 Shan State Special Region (Shan State Army), and the No. 4...

  7. Chapter Three The Opium Trade
    (pp. 47-85)

    Although there are numerous estimates of the amount of opium production in the Wa territory, we do not know how reliable these estimates are. In addition to the aggregate data, we need to know how Wa farmers view the act of growing opium. What are their reasons for participating in opium production? How do opium growers manage to sell their product? How much money do they make each year? How important to them is their income from opium? What is the social organization of opium cultivation, trading, and taxation? Besides the opium growers, who else is involved in the opium...

  8. Chapter Four Heroin Production and Trafficking
    (pp. 86-126)

    Because of the international subculture of heroin use, the opium business in the Wa Hills attracts the rapt attention of the world law enforcement community. According to the 1994 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of the U.S. Department of State, approximately 60 percent of the heroin consumed in the United States in 1994 came from Southeast Asia (SEA), and almost all of that was from Burma. Between 1986 and 1992, U.S. authorities solved more than twenty major heroin trafficking cases involving Chinese participants (Chin 1996). All the heroin had come from the Golden Triangle; the Chinese in Asia and the...

  9. Chapter Five The Methamphetamine Business
    (pp. 127-154)

    While the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia has long been known as a major opium cultivation and heroin production center, in the past decade the area has also developed into an important base for methamphetamine production.

    According to Chartchai Suthiklom, deputy secretary-general of the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) of Thailand, methamphetamine (or meth) tablets or speed pills (called yaba or mad drug in Thailand) were originally produced in Bangkok in the 1970s. At that time it was legal to possess ephedrine, the main ingredient in the production of methamphetamine. When the Thai government banned the production of meth...

  10. Chapter Six Drug Use
    (pp. 155-186)

    Most articles and books on the drug trade in the Golden Triangle have focused on the cultivation of opium and the production of heroin and methamphetamine for the world market, and have paid little attention to the negative impact of these drugs on the local population. In this chapter, I will discuss the problem of opium, heroin, and methamphetamine use in the Wa State, Burma, Thailand, and China. Data for this chapter came from my fieldwork in the Wa State, Rangoon, northern Thailand, and the Yunnan Province of China. When discussing the social processes and patterns of drug use in...

  11. Chapter Seven Drug Control
    (pp. 187-219)

    The drug trade in the Golden Triangle has been an international problem for more than half a century (McCoy 1972, 1991; Lintner 1994b; Renard 1996; Boucaud and Boucaud 1998), with the drug under scrutiny evolving from opium to heroin and, most recently, to methamphetamine (Phongpaichit, Piriyarangsan, and Teerat 1998; Takano 2002; Chouvy and Meissonnier 2004). Key players in the ongoing drug trade have included China’s Kuomintang soldiers in the 1950s and the 1960s, Burma’s Luo Xinghan and Khun Sa in the 1970s up to the mid-1990s, now Wei Xuegang and the United Wa State Army (Jelsma, Kramer, and Vervest 2005)....

  12. Chapter Eight The Business and Politics of Drugs
    (pp. 220-242)

    In this final chapter, I will focus on two issues: the question of who runs the drug trade, and how politics affects it. Many individuals or groups have been blamed for the drug trade in the Golden Triangle. I will examine the roles of several groups and suggest which groups of people are particularly active in the Golden Triangle’s drug business. The second question will examine how the drug business is closely related to politics and how politics often comes into play in the course of dealing with narcotics.

    There are two parts to the drug problem: supply and demand....

  13. Appendix: Names in Pinyin Romanization and Other Spellings
    (pp. 243-244)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 245-258)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-274)
  16. Index
    (pp. 275-280)