Beijing (China), 5 September 2023 – Senior officials from Mekong countries – Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam – and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have gathered in Beijing for the Senior Officials Committee meeting of the Mekong MOU on Drug Control, agreeing on a new plan of action.
Risks posed by organized crime syndicates operating in the region, and surging drug supply and use, were primary topics of discussion. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that severely hit the regional economy, the production, trafficking and use of drugs has continued to expand. The drug market has also increased in complexity and reach across East and Southeast Asia, with the Golden Triangle area of Myanmar, Lao PDR and northern Thailand along the Mekong, at the centre of the problem. Traffickers have adapted to border closures and used alternative methods and routes to continue profiting.
Methamphetamine seizures in 2022 were at pre-COVID-19 levels in East and Southeast Asia, with nearly 151 tons seized. “Organized crime syndicates have maintained the supply driven market expansion strategy of the past six or seven years, increasing volumes trafficked, lowering the cost of the drug, leading to increased use. This has been in large part facilitated by instability in Shan State, Myanmar, and the Golden Triangle, the loose trade in chemicals and connected illicit businesses, including casinos and underground banking”, noted UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas.
“The region is also confronted by new drug challenges. Ketamine production and trafficking have expanded dramatically, with a record 27.4 tons seized and an increase of 167 per cent” he added, remarking also the central role that opium cultivation still plays in the drug landscape in Southeast Asia, which rose by 33 per cent last year in Myanmar, and heroin, which remains a concern.
China, as the rotating host and Chair of the Senior Official Committee Meeting, commented on the urgency of the situation and the need to address the root causes and conditions used by organized crime in the Golden Triangle. Executive Secretary General Wei Xiaojun of the National Narcotics Control Commission of China also nominated Lao PDR to be the host for the Mekong MOU Senior Officials Committee Meeting for 2024.
“This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the Mekong MOU. Progress has been made but there is more to be done to address the drug problem in our region. We continue to move forward, overcoming challenges with a sense of collective ownership, and there is no doubt the Mekong MOU is the most important multilateral drug control cooperation mechanism in the region”, remarked Mr. Tsang Wai-hung, Vice Commissioner of the National Narcotics Control Commission of China.
The Mekong MOU has evolved to respond to the changing challenges of the drug market and has more recently considered strategies to address organized crime. Senior Officials from the Mekong and UNODC presented respective plans for the coming years, and agreed to the Twelfth Revision of the Subregional Action Plan (SAP XII) for cooperation, focusing on: (i) strengthening measures to address drug use through prevention and treatment initiatives; (ii) enhancing law enforcement cooperation; (iii) strengthening international judicial cooperation; and (iv) promoting sustainable alternative development programmes to support communities in the Mekong.
“The region and UNODC will continue to work together, implementing the agreement and driving the Mekong MOU towards more practical achievements”, remarked Mr. Wei Xiaojun.
Mr. Douglas concluded that “instability in Shan State and the Golden Triangle and spillover into Laos, Thailand and East and Southeast Asia is real and needs action. UNODC and the UN are committed to cooperation and improving the situation, and remain committed to the Mekong MOU. We hope the discussions and the plan that has been agreed contribute to a change in direction, and we will engage with others as needed to bring resources and pressure to bear help to address the situation”.