A Chinese woman smokes crystal meth, in Yunnan near the Chinese border with Myanmar. Picture from Sino-NK via Democratic Voice of Burma.
Jende Huang writes on Sino-NK about the illicit trade in crystal meth between North Korea and China. Curiously, China doesn’t seem to be too keen in reprimanding the DPRK for the production and export of meth, or bingdu (冰毒) in Chinese.
Though the North Korean government would never admit to outsiders that there is a drug problem in the country, the Daily NK has filed many reports over the past several years about this phenomena, suggesting that “bingdu” (what the North Koreans call meth) is available practically at epidemic levels inside the DPRK. Articles claim, among other things, that commodity prices rise and fall depending on the harshness of ongoing crackdowns on bingdu; that middle schoolers in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, were caught producing bingdu; that teenagers give it as a birthday gift to peers; and, most recently, that Kim Jong-Un had ordered a crackdown on bingdu producers, sellers, and users. Quotes from defectors and sources who spoke to the Daily NK report that anywhere from ¼ to ½ of the population in North Korea are using the drug. And as reported by Isaac Stone Fish in Newsweek, bingdu is often taken as a replacement for medicine in the DPRK. The general consensus appears to be that the North Korean government has taken a backseat to its citizens when it comes to the production and distribution of meth. This includes possible collaboration between criminal gangs in the DPRK and China.
Almost a decade ago, in 2004, the Deputy Secretary General of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) and Director-General of the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security Yang Fengrui was asked about drug smuggling from the DPRK into China. Yang responded that, “there are indeed cases of drug trafficking from the DPRK to China. However, since there are more than 100,000 drug trafficking cases in China each year with only several are related to the DPRK, the proportion is very small. Most of the drugs that bring harm to China are from the Golden Triangle.” He then went on to list “Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Nepal and some other countries” as the countries of origin of some recently captured drug traffickers. Although Yang sidestepped the impact of the North Korean drug trade, a recent report in the Dong-A Ilbo claims that the Chinese government (working with South Korean intelligence agencies) have seized 60 million USD worth of drugs from the DPRK in recent years.
The shift from denial to quiet interdiction most likely stems from two causes, the first being the abovementioned loss of production control from the North Korean government. The market forces that drive production in response to Chinese and other foreign demand over the past decade are causing larger and larger waves of meth to be washed up into northeastern China. The second cause could be driven by Beijing’s frustration with Pyongyang’s intransigence over the nuclear issue. Though unwilling to press the DPRK too hard, China may find cracking down on illicit drugs a more subtle way to exert pressure on the North Koreans, even if the bingdu isn’t directly coming from or benefiting the government.
More on North Korea here.