Across the Mekong, along the Mekong


By Puyam Rakesh


When the Mekong River cries, Manipur also sheds tears for the losses she has incurred so far. But the beautiful Mekong River, also known as the ‘Mae Nam Khong’, carries the guilt of millions lives sacrificed on the altar of the demon of drugs across the world. It knows that No. 4 is a dangerous. Now synthetic drugs are joining the slaughter. The WY (World is Yours) is one such drug of the category. What a lovely name? Like other peoples affected by drugs, the people of Manipur also longs for the funeral of the ‘Golden Triangle’ which keeps on sucking the blood of its victims. This region covers a large area of hilly and mountainous areas in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Like its cousin ‘Golden Crescent’, Golden Triangle contributes a large amount of drugs to the regional and international markets. The Northeast India also gets its fair share of drugs from the triangle region. Hence the No. 4 is called a dangerous number. According to many analysts, different types of synthetic drugs are posing greater challenge than the poppy products. When will the dangerous triangle die a horrible death?

Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has expanded bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation with the neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. Mention can be made of the Greater Mekong Sub-region cooperation (GMS) and China-ASEAN partnership. The GMS was launched in 1992 by the Asian Development Bank. Leaving aside the larger part of the country, Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China are participating in GMS cooperation. Yunnan Province shares long borders with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Therefore, it is badly affected by the opium products and various synthetic drugs coming from the Golden Triangle region. Many bilateral and multilateral agreements were signed among these neighbouring countries to restrain the dangerous onslaught of these drugs. The relevant UN bodies and other international organisations have intervened to check the notoriety of the region. However, the potency of the poppy farmers and synthetic drug manufacturers continue to fan the bad reputation. After all, it is a multi-million dollar business with several rings of powerful well-wishers. Will China tolerate this region?

China had her ‘Opium Wars’ but the war goes on. Beijing has been fighting against the drugs for decades. Many countries have opened their fronts against the drugs. Unfortunately, there is little success so far. The concerned authorities in the Golden Triangle region pledged to cooperate against drugs but the volumes of both poppy drugs and synthetic drugs keep decreasing and increasing. The notorious border areas far away from the administrative centres have made their half-hearted efforts to adopt alternative development models. These measures also failed to generate much change across the region. We have stories about mini-Las Vegas flourishing in border areas with casinos, brothels, and drug markets.

In the meantime, the Mekong River (the Chinese section is called Lancang) attracted the attentions of these countries to change the socio-economic landscapes. It became an important international river of navigation to transport commodities and passengers. Suddenly, a shocking incident hit China deep in her heart. In October 2011, a total of 13 Chinese sailors belonging to two cargo ships were killed brutally leading to the suspension of shipping on the Mekong River. Following this bloody incident, in December of the same year, China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand joined hands to begin regular joint patrols on the river for law enforcement.

The region gifted with beautiful landscapes and virgin forests is also infested with various ethnic armed groups, drug traffickers, human traffickers and other cross-border criminals. On Myanmar side, the ethnic peace process and proper administration of the far-flung areas could check the menace to some extent. However, China and these countries know the seriousness as well as complexity of the matter. For thousands of families, poppy farming is the best means of livelihood. Again, many of the drug lords have multiple handlers with different agendas. Drugs equate dreams for many souls here. Before his execution, Naw Kham, the mastermind of the October 2011 massacre on the Mekong River, warned people not to venture into the Golden Triangle region for the region sucks the innocence out of men. The region has varieties of drugs, prostitutes and black money. What a dangerous combination? No doubt, it is not the den of innocent players. However, the socio-economic dynamics of the region must be beyond the description of words for those who have experienced and witnessed for some years.

China and other GMS countries have been working on various economic corridors connecting the region. Some bilateral connectivity and infrastructure development projects such as Myanmar-Laos Friendship Bridge will gradually change the dynamics in the region. The GMS North-South economic corridor, China-ASEAN connectivity and various bilateral connectivity projects in the region will affect the Golden Triangle. Most importantly, the navigation along the Mekong River starting from Guanlei (China) to Chiang Saen (Thailand) is an important factor. Furthermore, the cooperation among the law enforcement agencies of these countries have been strengthened further to deal with various kinds of security concerns.

After launching the four nations’ law enforcement cooperation on joint patrol along the Mekong in the wake of the Mekong massacre, in October 2015, China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand issued a joint statement on enhancing judicial cooperation and crack down on cross-border crimes to maintain security along the river. This time Cambodia and Vietnam were included as observer countries. A common vision of the region without poppy farms and drug manufacturing plants could be the foundation of a new beginning for Asia. Other parties can join hands for a common goal.

Moreover, launching of the Lancang-Mekong cooperation (LMC) framework on 12 November this year will bring these countries closer for their common objectives. At the first LMC foreign ministers’ meeting held in Jinghong City, Yunnan Province of China, foreign ministry officials from China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam gathered together for cooperation. The three key areas of cooperation under the LMC framework include politico-security issues, economic affairs and sustainable development and social affairs and people-to-people exchanges. These arrangements will have the wherewithal to remove this cancerous tumour from the body of mother earth. Interestingly, there is interplay among livelihoods of the people, drug money, conflict situation, insecurity and poverty in the Golden Triangle region. There are many hurdles but the piles of money and gangs of powerful men are great barriers. If successful, Manipur will join the funeral of the Golden Triangle with laughter. Lastly, the Mekong will stop crying.


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