UN report reveals major criminal activities in East Asia-Pacific

According to a United Nations report, transnational organized criminal rings in the East Asia - Pacific mainly make money in activities related to human trafficking, trading in illicit drugs, illegal woods products, counterfeit goods, and others

This file photo shows a Vietnamese man being seized along with 7 kg of marijuana he brought into Vietnam from Laos on May 28, 2013

According to a United Nations report, transnational organized criminal rings in the East Asia - Pacific mainly make money in activities related to human trafficking, trading in illicit drugs, illegal woods products, counterfeit goods, and others. 
The report, titled “Transnational Organized Crime in East Asia and the Pacific”, was announced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Hanoi on Wednesday. It provides detailed information about such illegal activities, which include human trafficking and smuggling of migrants, illicit drugs (heroin and methamphetamine), resources (wildlife, wood products) and pollution crime (e-waste, ozone-depleting substances), and products (counterfeit goods, fraudulent medicines).

According to Lieutenant General Do Kim Tuyen, deputy head of the Anti-Crime Prevention and Control General Department, many contents of the report are closely related to Vietnam.

Human trafficking and smuggling of migrants

International labor migration is a longstanding tradition for many East Asian populations, of whom the Chinese are the most numerous. The Vietnamese diaspora is also extensive, and flows from both these countries appear to have increased since the 1980s. Most of this migration is legal, but those who choose to migrate illegally are highly likely to use smugglers, due to the distances involved and language difficulties.

The main destinations for Chinese migrants, who are mostly from the more affluent, eastern provinces of China, are the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. The majority of Vietnamese smuggled migrants are from the northern provinces, and tend to choose the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany as preferred destinations.

It is estimated that approximately 12,000 Chinese irregular migrants enter the US every year, each paying around US$50,000 for smuggling services. This would generate up to $600 million a year for smugglers. The number of Vietnamese smuggled into the US is much lower, likely fewer than 1,000 individuals. If they pay the same fees as the Chinese, this would result in payments to smugglers being worth $50 million a year.


Heroin consumption is rising in the region, with an estimated 3.3 million users at present. Today, most of the regional heroin production is confined to parts of Myanmar. Almost all of the heroin produced in Southeast Asia is consumed in East Asia and the Pacific. It is rarely encountered outside the region.

Based on the best reading of the available data, regional consumption is estimated at 65 tons of pure heroin in 2011. Available data on prices and purity suggest a retail sales volume of about $16.3 billion in 2011.

According to national estimates of the number of heroin users in 2010, Vietnam has 155,000 heroin users, ranking fourth after China (2,366,000), Indonesia (247,000), and Malaysia (170,000).  


Illegal wood-based products originate largely in Southeast Asia, mainly Indonesia and Malaysia.
Some move directly to consumer countries, while others are processed within the region, mainly in China and Vietnam, before being exported.

Official corruption plays a central role in the supply of illegal wood-based products from East Asia and the Pacific to consumer markets. As a result, very little illicit wood or wood-based products are seized.

Based on official bilateral trade flow statistics, it is estimated that the value of illegal trade from and within the region in wood-based products is around $17 billion. This suggests that 30-40 percent of the total quantity and export value of wood-based products exported from the region in 2010 derived from illegal sources.

According to the figures of export values of illegal wood-based products within and
from East Asia and the Pacific in 2010, Vietnam accounted for $700 million, ranking sixth after China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

Electrical and electronic waste

Electrical and electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, a consequence of rapid turnover of electronic devices, particularly in the European Union, Japan and the United States. E-waste is often diverted to the black market to avoid the costs associated with legitimate recycling.

China is the main dumping ground for e-waste in the region, while Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are secondary centers for the trade. Hong Kong (China) and northern Vietnam are key transit hubs for e-waste shipments.

Approximately eight million tons of e-waste are smuggled into China every year. For the region, this value could be rounded to ten million tons a year. At a value of around $375 per ton, this market is worth $3.75 billion in East Asia.

Fraudulent medicines

At present, the largest sources of fraudulent medicines appear to be India and China, with China being the departure point of nearly 60 percent of the counterfeit medical products seized worldwide between 2008 and 2010.

It is not uncommon for counterfeit ingredients to be sent from China to Southeast Asia for production and packaging. As law enforcement and regulatory pressure has increased within China, key aspects of production may be moving elsewhere, to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Based on a series of forensic studies, an average of 47 percent of the anti-malarial medicines tested in Southeast Asia was found to be fraudulent.

If this rate of fraud were applied to regional pharmaceutical sales, which amounted to $8 billion in 2010, around $4 billion in fraudulent drugs were sold that year. Figures for Africa are similar, and if 60 percent of these drugs originated in China, this suggests a combined flow to these two regions of about $5 billion in 2010.

Counterfeit goods

The trade in counterfeit goods is often perceived as a “soft” form of crime, but can have dangerous consequences for public health and safety. Fraudulent medicines in particular pose a threat to public health, and their use can foster the growth of treatment resistant pathogens.

China has become the world’s workshop, producing a significant share of the world’s manufactured goods. It also produces a large share of the counterfeits: according to the World Customs Organization, 75 percent of the counterfeit products seized worldwide from 2008 to 2010 were manufactured in East Asia, primarily China.

The OECD has concluded that counterfeiting accounts for around 2 percent of world trade. Applying this rate to the value of goods imported from East Asia to the US and the EU in 2010 suggests a flow worth some $24.4 billion.


Consumption of pill-form methamphetamine (“yaba”) remains very popular in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. Much of the world’s yaba is produced in Myanmar’s Shan State, as well as in China. Crystal methamphetamine, a more potent and addictive form of the drug, has spread to every country in the region.

The yaba market is largely confined to the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Based on seizure and  survey data, an estimated 1.4 billion yaba pills are consumed annually. Using local prices, this market generates $8.5 billion each year.

Based on street prices in the region, the crystal methamphetamine market is worth US$6.5 billion. Taking yaba and crystal together, the methamphetamine market in East Asia and the Pacific generated around $15 billion in 2010.


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