In China, the fight against drugs is back in the news. The authorities, noting an increase, albeit minimal (1.9%), in the number of people who habitually use drugs, immediately sent a warning to all, with entire pages of newspapers intended to convey a clear and precise message to the citizens of the former Middle Empire: stay away from those substances. Beijing usually gives only one warning, so it is likely that very soon the Chinese Communist Party could launch a national campaign to eradicate the aforementioned social plague by using “Chinese methods”: efficient but brutal. Meanwhile, the government has to face two significant emergencies: a village, probably not the only one, in which most of the inhabitants are addicted to heroin, and the new arrival of a powerful synthetic drug ready to be shipped worldwide.

The hell of Xiamaguan

Xiamaguan is a town located in Ningxia, an autonomous region in the north-west of China. By Chinese standards, Xiamaguan is a small place and is home to only around a hundred families. Here, the population finds itself in a complicated situation, crushed between burgeoning drug dealing in the city on one side, and the disaster of drug addiction on the other. The average salary of ordinary citizens fluctuates between 150 and 400 dollars a month, the result of makeshift jobs and little else. To earn more money, increasing numbers have seen fit to turn themselves into heroin traffickers. As South China Morning Post revealed, in the 1980s, some citizens of Xiamaguan left their hometown to move to Guangzhou, where they began trading gold and precious stones.

Traffickers and addicts

Many of them did not know at that point what drugs were, but soon they came across a substance that earned far more money than gold. Expatriates brought these goods from Yunnan back to Xiamaguan over 20 years ago, and today the contacts and routes where the drugs were transported are still in place, despite government efforts. Soon the inhabitants of Xiamaguan fell into a vicious circle: the traffickers also began to become addicts. Arrests, separated families, children used as couriers and, more generally, the living conditions of the people have contributed to high social deprivation throughout the area. Since 2013, controls have increased and the situation has improved slightly. New regulations have brought a breath of fresh air to exasperated citizens: drug users, when caught in the act, are sent to special detoxification centres, whereas the smugglers end up in prison.

The Golden Triangle returns to shine

In addition to the outbreaks in small suburban centers, in some cases, drug trafficking is widespread. China has to deal with the increase in the flow of drugs coming from the Vietnamese border, where the so-called Golden Triangle lies – an area between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Given the geography of the territory, comprising jungle and dense vegetation, it is almost impossible for the Chinese government to control the entire border area. In 2018, Beijing seized 37.5 tons of drugs and the substances needed to produce them, but many others managed to enter the country to be traded by criminal gangs all over the world. Meanwhile, as the New York Times notes, a new opiate from China, following the aforementioned path, is taking away work from the many Mexican farmers involved in the heroin production chain. Meanwhile, the Chinese police are rolling up their sleeves and are ready for action.

Translation by Laura Flower