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‘China struggling with N.K. drugs’

Meth floods Yanji, Jilin province fueled by border transients: Newsweek


While cautious not to make the case official for the sake of ties with its longstanding ally, China is becoming impatient with the increasing amount of illegal drugs flowing in from North Korea, according to a U.S. weekly magazine.

Over the past decade, methamphetamine ― also known as crystal meth or ice because of its flaky crystals ― has flooded China’s Yanji and the wider Jilin province, fueled by border transients, Newsweek magazine reported this week.

Six North Koreans were arrested in a high-profile bust last year by Chinese border patrol officers, the New York-based magazine also said, noting North Korean meth is much cheaper than that in mainland China.

The issue is “not the sort of thing to be confirmed by South Korea,” an unnamed Seoul official said. He did not fail to add, however, that the Seoul government was also “on constant watch” for North Korean drugs reaching the South.

Apparently not wanting to ruin relations with its communist neighbor, the Beijing government has not officially pointed fingers at Pyongyang with reports on drug busts in the region saying they came from “a border country.”

Unofficially, however, China has been seeking tighter control by sending out warning notices to the North Korean embassy and missions, a source close to North Korea said, asking not to be named due to security reasons.

“This is clearly a warning telling North Korea that China will no longer tolerate drug trafficking by anyone, including North Korean diplomats and high-ranking officials,” the source said.

A desolate city some 80 kilometers from the river border between China and North Korea, Yanji is heavily influenced by the Korean language and culture. In just over two decades, the number of drug addicts in Yanji increased roughly 50 times, according to a Brookings Institution report, with more than 90 percent of them addicted to meth or similar synthetic drugs.

“Jilin Province is not only the most important transshipment point for drugs from North Korea into China, but has itself become one of the largest markets in China for amphetamine-type stimulants,” the Brookings report said. “Clearly, the amphetamine-type stimulants from North Korea have become a threat to China in recent years.”

First synthesized in 1893, meth is now one of the world’s most widely abused drugs.

The drug is known to suppress the need for food and sleep for an extended period of time ― a characteristic that has made it popular in the impoverished North Korea ― although it can eventually lead to anxiety and even suicidal ideation. Regardless of its dangers, meth is considered an expensive medicine that can cure all kinds of symptoms, according to North Korean observers.

According to Newsweek, North Korea’s methamphetamine production is centered in Hamheung, the site of a chemical-industrial complex built by the Japanese during World War II, which has a high concentration of chemists and was reportedly one of the worst-hit cities during the famine.

Yanji has become exposed to North Korean drugs as some refugees carried drugs with them to sell or barter for food while fleeing to the border region, experts say.

An earlier report by Seoul’s Korean Institute of Criminology said more than a third of imprisoned North Korean defectors here have been sentenced for drug trafficking.

Prof. Jang Joon-oh, director of the International Center for Criminal Justice, said 17 of the 48 defectors incarcerated in the South were charged with trafficking opium and meth.

Despite harsh punishment for defection, a growing number of North Koreans have been fleeing to the wealthier South, indicating the deepening food shortages and instability in the communist state.

More than 20,000 North Koreans are said to have defected since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice.

North Koreans also have minimal understanding of the illegality of narcotics, due to common exposure to drugs, the expert said.

The Pyongyang regime has also tried, though with lackluster effort, to quell drug abuse among its people, a Seoul-based North Korean media outlet said.
Local officials last year announced an anti-drug campaign, saying “all carrying the drug, sellers, and users, will be severely punished by the law,” according to the Daily NK.

Anti-drug posters have also been seen in the capital Pyongyang, a rare admission of a societal ill in a place where the state rarely admits problems, but drug abuse is clearly not the most pressing problem for North Korea as it struggles to feed its people and solicit outside assistance, experts say.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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