Organized Crime in Asia

Richard H Ward & Daniel J Mabrey. Handbook of Transnational Crime & Justice. Editor: Philip Reichel. 2005. Sage Publication.

For most of the developing economies of Asia, crime in the past two decades has been a troubling issue, characterized by corruption, unstable or weak governments, and in many cases, criminal justice systems that have neither the funding nor the technology necessary to cope with increasingly sophisticated criminal activity. In many countries throughout Asia, organized criminal groups have long histories, in some cases dating back hundreds of years. In virtually all cases, these groups have been evolutionary, adapting to changing political conditions, warfare (both domestic and international), and perhaps most important, the development of technology, communications, travel, and the emergence of a global economy.

In addition to general increases in traditional criminal activity, such as robbery, burglary, theft, and assault, a number of countries have been the focus of transnational criminal activity, particularly in the areas of drug trafficking, illegal immigration, arms trafficking, the exploitation of women and children, and widespread public and private corruption. Behind most of these activities are organized and enterprising criminal groups. Some examples include the Triads and Tongs in Hong Kong and China, the Yakuza in Japan, the United Bamboo Gang in Taiwan, warlords in Myanmar, the Nam Cam Gang in Vietnam, and other ethnic entrepreneurs throughout Asia.

In many cases, there are symbiotic relationships between groups that have resulted in a global network of organized criminal activity. Various forms of criminal trafficking, money laundering, and illegal enterprises involving technology (e.g., cybercrime) are the most common activities of these groups. In adapting to a new world order, many criminal groups in Southeast Asia have reinvented themselves, both to evade international law enforcement efforts and to take advantage of new “markets” throughout the world.

At the heart of these criminal activities is the world market in illegal drugs, ranging from poppy production for heroin to new demands for psychotropic substances, such as methamphetamines and other forms of “designer” drugs like 3,4 methylenedioxy methylamphetamine (commonly known as ecstasy), gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, ketamine (Special K), methcathi-none (“cat”), and mescaline.

With the opening of China to the West in the 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, a growing market in illegal immigration and the exploitation of women and children have also become lucrative sources of income for organized crime. In addition, the technological advances of the past decade have fostered child pornography, money laundering, and Internet scams. Asian organized crime groups have become an integral part of this burgeoning international phenomenon.

It is widely assumed that organized crime cannot exist to any substantial degree in the absence of corruption, and many Asian countries find themselves facing growing levels of government, judicial, and police involvement in corrupt activities that support criminal enterprises.

This chapter examines Asian organized crime, predominantly in East and Southeast Asia, from the perspective of developing nations, industrialized countries, and democratization. Although these three variables are not mutually exclusive, they do reflect in large measure a typology that relates to criminal activity. For example, crime in developing countries is less likely to be transnational in nature, with the exception of illegal migration, exploitation of women and children, and to some degree, drug trafficking. Crime in industrial countries—democratic or autocratic—is characterized by more sophisticated criminality and organized crime. There is also likely to be more cross-border or transnational crime. Countries that have placed a greater emphasis on the rule of law and democratic freedoms have seen increases in street-level crime, such as robbery and burglary, and are more likely to be plagued by sophisticated international organized crime groups. To better understand some of these relationships, it is important to be familiar with the cultural, political, and economic environments of different countries and how they contribute to organized criminal activity. Countries in the sample include the following:

  • China (The People’s Republic of China)
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Republic of Korea
  • Philippines
  • Cambodia
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan (Republic of China)
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Myanmar (formerly Burma)

To better understand organized crime in Asia, one must also recognize that different legal structures and the justice systems of different countries, particularly police, courts, and corrections, have an impact on public order and crime control. Methods of training, education, and selection of personnel in each of these areas frequently differ between countries. The following analysis is illustrative rather than exhaustive and provides a brief overview of the justice systems in select Asian countries.

Asian Criminal Justice Systems


The People’s Republic of China, with a population of more than 1 billion, is the largest country in the world and has evolved since its inception in 1949 from a relatively isolated country to a burgeoning superpower. The criminal justice system has undergone numerous changes from the time when the country opened up to the West in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although crime in China is relatively low by Western standards, China has experienced an increasing crime problem over the past two decades, due in no small measure to a growing economy and the ability of organized crime to move more freely throughout the country. China’s police service, known as Public Security, numbers more than 1.5 million personnel and is centralized under the Ministry of Public Security. Judicial and correctional services come under the Ministry of Justice. Over the past 20 years, these two ministries have undergone sweeping changes, modeled in many ways on European and American concepts of criminal justice. The criminal laws and judicial process have also undergone key revisions, although, in practice, there is a major difference between the written legal system and the actual practices of the system.

Organized crime in China is somewhat amorphous but generally takes two similar forms. The first involves criminal activity by gangs such as the Triads, frequently in cooperative ventures involving black market activities, large burglaries, thefts, and hijackings. These gangs are also involved in extortion of small businesses. Criminal syndicates make up the second form of Chinese organized crime and are involved in more sophisticated crimes such as prostitution, illegal emigration, slavery, and other organized forms of vice.

Historically, Chinese law enforcement officials maintained that organized crime was virtually eliminated under the leadership of Mao Zedong, but it is doubtful that organized crime ever left the country; rather, the Triad societies, which moved to Hong Kong following the fall of the Kuomintang government, maintained a clandestine presence on the mainland. In 1993, the minister of public security admitted that Triads were operating in China (“Guangdong Takes Hard Line,” 1993). Although data relative to the increase of Triad activity in China are scarce, public officials acknowledge the increasing presence of Triad groups from Hong Kong.

There have also been reports of Triads forming drug trafficking networks with the Bamboo Union gangs in Taiwan, the Yakuza in Japan, and even with drug cartels from Colombia. The U.S. Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs reported that China is a major transit point for illegal narcotics produced in the Golden Triangle, and the largest number of seizures of Southeast Asian heroin now occur within the country (U.S. Department of State, 2002). The southern areas of China will also continue to be major transit routes for Southeast Asian heroin. Heroin, particularly, is pouring into China from Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. Despite death sentences for traffickers and a widespread war on drugs, the Chinese government admits that it is facing an uncontrollable crisis, especially given the reported increases in drug use by the young. China is also a major source country for precursor chemicals such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and acetic anhydride and is a major producer of crystal methamphetamine (Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA], 2002b).

Official figures show the use of drugs, including ecstasy and amphetamines, up by more than 25 percent last year. The official number of addicts is 860,000 in a population of 1.2 billion. The crackdown has had a sharp effect on young club-goers, particularly in coastal cities. Many wind up in mental hospitals and are left there until a $6,500 bribe is paid. (August, 2001, p. D13)

In 1991, there were an estimated 148,000 registered drug users, and despite a rapid increase in the number of drug rehabilitation centers, the number of users had grown to more than 900,000 by the end of 2001. Some independent reports estimate the number of drug users is about 7 million (Ching-Ching, 2003). Most drug users are under 35 and take heroin, intravenously, which leaves them vulnerable to AIDS (Ching-Ching, 2003). China’s nationwide “drug-free community” program resulted in some 66,000 drug addicts being sent for compulsory treatment to medical centers, and 11,000 to labor camps in 2001 (Schauble, 2001).

Drug trafficking is one of a number of crimes punishable by death in China. Unemployment, and what is commonly referred to as the “floating population,” has created migration to the cities and contributes to the crime problem. In 2000, more than 36,000 people were charged with drug trafficking (“China Targets Golden Triangle,” 2001).

The ethnic Yi of southern China have been leaving home in droves, joining an avalanche of unemployed workers and idle farmers crisscrossing the land searching for a piece of the new economic miracle … [a]s many as 90 percent of these low skilled workers can’t find jobs. Many turn to drug trafficking. A dealer can make more money in a day than a farmer makes in a year. Some of their best customers are other migrants from their villages. (Ching-Ching, 2003, E6)

The exploitation of women and children for sex and human trafficking by organized criminal groups represents another major problem for China. Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou provinces are the principal areas from which many women are kidnapped and sold into slavery. Within the country, prostitution has become a major source of revenue for the poor, and as drug addiction has increased, the problem has become more widespread. In the larger cities, organized crime has taken over much of the trade, and corruption of police and others, such as hotel employees and cab drivers, has contributed to the problem.

The pre-revolutionary custom of bride selling has returned to rural villages in China. Marriage brokers—essentially slave dealers—search the countryside, offering girls for sale to prospective husbands. The recruiters kidnap and buy women and girls. From 1991 through 1996, Chinese police freed 88,000 kidnapped women and children and arrested 143,000 people for participating in the slave trade. (Liu & Elliott, 1998, p. 48)

Illegal emigration has also become a lucrative business for organized crime, and the smuggling of individuals to all parts of the world has become commonplace. Chinese organized crime groups, especially the Triads, are deeply involved in the human trade business. Traffickers, known as “snakeheads,” are part of a global network, wherein an individual may pay as much as $30,000 or more to enter the United States. Within the United States, a well-organized criminal network has been developed to foster illegal immigration. Many, if not most, of the illegal immigrants must work for years to pay off their debt and, in the case of women, many are destined to be forced into prostitution (DeStefano & Gordy, 1994).

Chinese Triads have taken over the smuggling of illegal immigrants from smaller “mom and pop” organizations as an increasingly attractive alternative to drug trafficking because it promises multibillion dollar profits without the same severe penalties if caught. Earnings from illegal immigrant trade are estimated to total $3.2 billion per year, yet it is punishable in the United States by a maximum sentence of only five years in jail. Most who are convicted under current laws are sentenced to less than six months. (Bolz, 1995, p. 147)

The increase in drug trafficking and other organized criminal activities in China has contributed largely to government and police corruption. Despite severe penalties and a number of ongoing crackdowns, the problem has become increasingly severe. Former Minister of Public Security Jia Chunwang vowed to attack police corruption in 1999 promising to contain police corruption within 3 years. He cited bribery, abuse of power, negligence, direct involvement in illegal activities and collaboration with criminals, illegal use of weapons, and dereliction of duty while enforcing the law as the most serious violations (“Minister Vows to Further Curb,” 1999).

A grassroots survey found that between 1997 and 1999, the Public Security force was identified as the most corrupt of all government bodies. The survey found that local police were involved in gambling, prostitution and drug-trafficking rackets, and shakedowns of the public, including levying fines and detaining people without authorization (Hsieh, 2001). Jia’s reform efforts resulted in numerous arrests and convictions, not the least of which was the conviction of a former vice-minister of public security, Li Jizhou, who was sentenced to death for corruption. Reform efforts also resulted in a major crackdown on government and business leaders. Local procurators recovered almost 1.3 billion yuan (about $157 million) from corrupt officials over a 5-year period, from 1999 to 2003. In 2002, prosecutors instituted 62 major cases involving corruption, 79 cases involving government officials, and 27 cases involving municipal officials. According to some reports, approximately 170 million yuan (about $20.5 million) was recovered in these cases (“China: Beijing Authorities,” 2003).

Beyond the Triads and sophisticated criminal syndicates, thousands of minor gangs exist throughout the country; they are involved in a wide range of illegal activities, from theft to extortion thefts and commerce violations. As they become more sophisticated and form larger criminal organizations, it is likely that they will broaden their activities and begin to cooperate with other criminal groups.

Hong Kong

In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to the People’s Republic of China, ending a 100-year lease to the United Kingdom. Under the transition agreement, the Chinese government established a policy of “one country, two systems,” agreeing that the former colony would continue to follow a legal system based on British common law for a period of 50 years. As one of the most successful communities in Asia, Hong Kong has one of the most advanced criminal justice systems in the world. Nevertheless, it continues to be the center of Triad activity in that part of the world. One police estimate calculated as many as 50 triad societies in Hong Kong, the largest being the “Wo Sing Wo” and “14-K” (Macko, 1997).

With a police force of more than 27,000 personnel and a budget close to $HK6.7 billion, this relatively small geographic city has a population of 6,815,800 (February 2003 estimate). As previously noted, the judicial system is based on British common law that allowed a relatively independent judiciary to be adopted under Chinese control, which is exercised through an administrator appointed by the government.

Compared with mainland China, Hong Kong’s crime rates are generally higher, with theft being the most significant criminal activity. However, one must recognize that Hong Kong is a densely populated city, and when compared with other large cities, the crime rate is comparable.

Unlike many of the other countries in Asia, illegal drug trafficking is not viewed as a major problem, and police place a high priority on drug suppression and the control of precursor chemicals. Drugs smuggled into Hong Kong are primarily for local consumption (U.S. Department of State, 2002).

One of the more interesting criminal justice units in Hong Kong is the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), an independent body established when Hong Kong was under British control. ICAC’s reputation for fighting corruption is unparalleled, and the organization has some extraordinary powers to conduct investigations. Over the years, Hong Kong has been rated as one of the least corrupt places in the world. The Chinese government has continued to support ICAC and its activities, and in a conference in 2003 in cooperation with Interpol, officials from many countries attended to observe the anti-corruption activities in this unique city.


Japan is one of the most advanced governments in Asia, with a well-trained and organized criminal justice system. The political system has been influenced by 19th-century German and British Parliamentary models and the country’s constitution was rewritten following World War II by U.S. advisers. The legal system is based largely on the legal systems of Germany and France, as well as the United States model, while facets of Oriental law continue to be imbedded in the culture (Moriyama, 1997).

In recent years, a sluggish economy and revelations about the influence of organized crime, the Yakuza or Boryokudan, in government and business have cast a cloud over crime control efforts.

The yakuza make millions of dollars a year through corporate extortion, and the sokaiya (shareholders’ meeting men) are the masters of the enterprise. Sokaiya will buy a small number of shares in a company so that they can attend shareholders’ meetings. In preparation for the meeting, the sokaiya gather damaging information about the company and its officers; secret mistresses, tax evasion, unsafe factory conditions, and pollution are all fodder for the sokaiya.

They will then contact management and threaten to disclose whatever embarrassing information they have at the shareholders’ meeting unless they are “compensated.” In Japan, where people fear embarrassment and shame much more than physical threats, executives usually give the sokaiya whatever they want. (Bruno, 2003)

The Yakuza influence has infiltrated banks, real estate agencies, corporations, and government, prompting major scandals (Bremner, 1996). There are an estimated 110,000 active members who are part of as many as 2,500 “families” (Bruno, 2003). In 2001, police arrested 9,893 Yakuza members for possession of stimulants, 1,949 for extortion, and 1,398 for gambling (National Police Agency, 2002).

Given the strong presence of the Yakuza in Japan’s private sector, it is not surprising then that Japan’s government and police agencies have also been negatively affected by corruption. A crackdown on police corruption in 2000 resulted in disciplinary action against 525 officers, who were fired, suspended, or disciplined, in cases involving all provinces in the country. This was the highest number of corruption cases reported in 10 years (“Police Corruption Cases,” 2001).

The exploitation of women by the Yakuza has been a continuing problem, largely as a result of the large number of foreigners trafficked or smuggled from the Philippines and Thailand who are involved in prostitution. The Yakuza have been known to pay between US$2,400 and US$18,000 for female Taiwanese and Filipino prostitutes. According to one report, there were more than 150,000 foreign prostitutes in Japan in 1998, most of whom entered the country legally as entertainers, a euphemism for those engaged in the booming sex industry (Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, 1998). Approximately one third of all prostitution cases in Japan involve teenagers (Hughes, Sporcic, Mendelsohn, & Chirgwin, 1999c).


The major transnational criminal activities in Cambodia are controlled largely by Chinese and Myanmarese organized crime groups and are closely tied to drug and human trafficking. Cambodia has been cited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (2002a) as a source country for the growth of marijuana, which is trafficked largely in Europe, and as a transit country on the international drug market for the distribution of Southeast Asian heroin. Heroin is moved from Laos and Thailand through Phnom Penh as part of the global drug trade.

Law enforcement efforts against organized crime in Cambodia are largely ineffectual. In 2000, only 124 people were arrested for drug offenses (81 were foreign nationals), and only 1,108 kilograms of cannabis products were seized by the National Anti-Drug Unit (DEA, 2002a). Law enforcement agencies are underfunded and lack even basic training in drug control efforts, a problem that is further compounded by endemic corruption. Despite this, Cambodia was removed by the United States from the list of major drug-producing and transit countries in 2002 (U.S. Department of State, 2002).

Within the country, there has been a significant increase in the use of methamphetamines by young people, prompting the government to take an active role in working with international agencies in antidrug activities. Nevertheless, widespread corruption hampers enforcement efforts. Gambling, prostitution, and money laundering have also fostered the existence of global organized crime networks in the country.

Organized crime groups control prostitution, and the exploitation of women is a major problem within Cambodia.

Virgins, who have been sold to brothels by trafficking agents, are confined to the brothel or a hotel room until the first client comes. Due to the belief that sex with a virgin has rejuvenating properties, her first client is charged an expensive amount. Advertised as “special commodities,” virgins are also attractive in that they are less likely to have AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. The customer pays from $300 to $400 to have sex with her for one week in a local hotel chosen by the brothel owner. (Flamm & Ngo, 1997)

Although Cambodia has no extradition or mutual legal assistance treaty with the United States, the government has cooperated with U.S. law enforcement agencies by deporting persons wanted in the United States for crimes, including narcotics. In 2001, the government signed the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants. Despite this, the country rivals Thailand as a major haven for prostitution, and unofficial estimates indicate that most of the 15,000 prostitutes (many ranging in age from 15-18) are brought into the country from China and Vietnam. Consequently, the AIDS virus is also a serious problem (Hughes et al., 1999b).

Republic of Korea

South Korea, with a population of 48 million (July 2003 estimate), employs a civil law system wherein written laws are the primary source of reference, as opposed to statutes or ordinances. The criminal law classifies crimes into five broad categories: (1) crimes that breach the national interest, (2) crimes that breach the social interest, (3) crimes of a personal nature, (4) tax-related crimes, and (5) drug crimes. Children between the ages of 14 and 20 are handled under the juvenile legal system (U.S. Department of Justice, 1997).

Organized crime in Korea has a unique history when compared to that of other Asian nations. As Korea began to modernize in the 1800s, the population swelled and began to concentrate in urban centers where unemployed young men banded together and idled about city streets. These groups of young men were called Keondal, meaning scamps, and they worked in places like bars, gambling houses, and construction sites. The Keondal were not considered criminal groups, even though they engaged in criminal activities and internecine violence, because they honored loyalty and faithfulness, and they would sometimes help the weak and the poor. Much like the Japanese Yakuza, the lives of Keondal are an attractive subject of movies and are admired by some Korean youth (Park, 2001).

In the 1960s, organized crime groups emerged as an influential power in entertainment districts and quickly became associated with politicians, who used them as their personal henchmen to attack political rivals. The military government in Korea at the time arrested over 13,000 members of these political gangs and temporarily stamped out organized crime in Korea.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Korean organized crime groups developed into nationwide organizations, with some groups even extending their activities to foreign countries through associations with the Yakuza and other organized crime groups in the United States. This led the Korean government to officially declare a “war” against organized crime. Members could be arrested and punished for forming, joining, or even affiliating with criminal organizations. As of January 2000, the prosecutors in the Violent Crime Department (the agency charged with combating organized crime) estimated that there were over 11,500 members in 404 organized crime families or groups in Korea, with the average criminal organization having 35 members (Park, 2001). Special surveillance is conducted on 647 members in 117 families or groups, the majority of whom are teenagers  (Park, 2001).

Drug trafficking is the main criminal enterprise for Korean organized crime, with most shipments originating in drug factories in China and Japan before being smuggled into countries throughout Asia and into the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State (2002), Korea is neither a major user nor a major producer of dangerous drugs, although drug use by young people is increasing. In 2000, there were approximately 10,000 arrests for drug violations (U.S. Department of State, 2002).

Prostitution and the exploitation of women is a common problem, due in no small measure to the presence of the large American military presence in the country. It is estimated that there are 18,000 registered and 9,000 unregistered prostitutes near military bases (Hughes et al., 1999d). According to one report, many younger children are lured into the sex trade because men prefer young girls because they believe they are less likely to contract AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (Hughes et al., 1999d). Russian and Korean-Chinese criminal organizations are involved in trafficking women and migrant workers. The Russian Mafiya provides job opportunities as entertainers to young Russian women and assists them in obtaining Korean tourist visas. In this process, the Russian Mafiya receives commissions from the applicants. The women who apply are sent to Korea to work in entertainment businesses as dancers or barmaids, although they eventually end up as prostitutes (Park, 2001).


Myanmar, formerly Burma, is a major opium-producing country, and under the leadership of a military junta, is one of the most lawless countries in Asia. The military-controlled criminal justice system is rife with corruption.

[In 2002], under the generals’ protective partnering with drug lords, Burma was the source for 68 percent of the world’s opium production. And methamphetamine from Burma has been flooding into Thailand. One of the crudest of the junta’s human rights abuses has been its unceasing exploitation of forced labor. In November 2000, the International Labor Organization, a UN agency, took the unprecedented step of punishing the Burmese regime by invoking an article of its charter that requires all the ILO’s 175 member states to review their policies toward Burma on the supposition that each would decide the most effective ways to compel the junta to end the practice of forced labor. (“Forced Labor in Burma,” 2002, p. A18)

Drug production and trafficking is controlled by several “armies,” which in effect are perhaps the largest organized crime groups in the world. Armed ethnic groups such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Kokang Chinese, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army control the cultivation areas, refine opium into heroin, and also produce methamphetamine. These heavily armed ethnic groups have promised to eliminate opium production, and it is believed that the Eastern Shan State Army area has eliminated opium production (DEA, 2002c).

In areas controlled by the UWSA, the government has virtually no control and has not attempted to eliminate opium production, claiming that cracking down on the Wa jeopardizes Burma’s national security (U.S. Department of State, 2002).

Wei Hsueh-kang, the commander of the Southern Military Region of the UWSA, is the most significant drug trafficker in Myanmar because of his contacts in both Southeast Asia and North America. Wei was indicted in 1993 in the Eastern District of New York for conspiracy to smuggle heroin into the United States….

As the largest drug-producing and trafficking group in the country, the UWSA and its leaders continue to amass millions of dollars. The UWSA has expanded geographically and militarily; its social, economic, and political influence rivals the government. (DEA, 2002c, p. 6)

Corruption is endemic within Myanmar, and between 2000 and 2002, “32 police officers have been punished for narcotics-related corruption: 17 received jail sentences; 4 have been terminated; 6 officers were forced to retire” (U.S. Department of State, 2002, pp. viii-11). At the same time, the government’s war on drugs has been costly to the police, and 828 officers have been killed since 1988, with another 2,515 wounded (Wenge, Aung, Namdar, & Maiyalarp, 2000). In 1999, 24 judges were charged with taking bribes, and this increased to 28 in 2000 and 66 in 2001 (“Burmese Leader Calls for Justice,” 2002).

Myanmar is also a major source of women and children who are trafficked to Pakistan and Thailand by organized criminal groups, many of whom are under the age of 18. Many of the victims are lured by job placement agencies, frequently controlled by organized crime groups, and other young girls are simply abducted from hill tribes and exported into the sex trade (Hughes et al., 1999a).

Other Asian Countries

Although this chapter focuses on the countries above, it should be noted that organized criminal groups have expanded to include most countries in Asia in one form or another.

In Taiwan, organized crime is controlled largely by the Bamboo Union Gangs. These gangs have close relationships with Triad groups in China and Hong Kong and are primarily involved in drug trafficking (metham-phetamine and heroin) from mainland China (U.S. Department of State, 2002). Prostitution, controlled largely by organized crime, was outlawed in 1997, giving rise to “floating brothels” off the coast. According to one estimate there were 60,000 female child prostitutes (ages 12 to 17) in Taiwan in 1999, most of whom were sold by their parents to criminal syndicates (“Floating Brothels Popular,” 1998).

In contrast to most countries in Asia, the tiny country of Singapore stands as one of the few places where strict law enforcement and strong central government impose stringent fines, extended prison sentences, and capital punishment to maintain public security. In 1973, the Misuse of Drugs Act established severe penalties for drug violations, including long prison sentences and capital punishment for trafficking and production of drugs. Despite the severe penalties, there are a number of organized criminal organizations operating in the country. In 2000, almost half of the 56 major operations conducted by the Central Narcotic Bureau were against criminal syndicates (U.S. Department of State, 2002).

The Philippines has long been a haven for the sex industry, both within the country and as part of the human export trade. Organized crime groups control virtually every aspect of the commerce in women and children. Thousands of women are sent to Japan, Thailand, and other countries. The country is also a major provider of young children for pedophiles who travel from countries throughout the world, including the United States, on so-called sex tours (Juvida, 1997).

Thailand’s sex industry is one of the most notorious in the world, and is a multibillion-dollar industry. Organized crime groups have imported an estimated 1 million women from China, Laos, and Vietnam to Thailand. An estimated 400,000 children under the age of 16 work in brothels, bars, and nightclubs (Serjeant, 1998). Global criminal networks involved in Thailand’s drug trafficking, money laundering, and prostitution operate from China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore.

Most of the transnational organized crime groups operating in Vietnam are from bases in other Asian countries, but there are a growing number of Vietnamese organized gangs (namely, affiliates of the Nam Cam Gang), many of which display characteristics of the more sophisticated groups in Hong Kong and China. Accordingly, corruption of public officials and the police is increasing. Vietnam is ranked by the United States among the top 26 drug-producing and -trafficking countries in the world (“Seven Vietnamese Police Officers,” 2000). In 1995, the U.S. Department of State identified Vietnam as a major transit point and production entity for heroin. Heroin from Laos, Myanmar, China, and Thailand and marijuana from Cambodia are frequently moved through Vietnam by organized crime groups.

The Future of Asian Organized Crime

One need not speculate to conclude that organized crime in Asia will continue to grow well into the next decade. Despite a number of breakthroughs in major cases, the growth in transnational organized crime throughout the world sees the “fingerprints” of both traditional and nontraditional groups.

Traditional criminal enterprises include the Chinese Triads based in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, as well as the Japanese Yakuza. Nontraditional criminal enterprises include groups such as Chinese criminally influenced tongs, Triad affiliates, and other Asian street gangs situated in several continents with sizable Asian communities (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2003, p. 16).

Within the individual countries that have spawned organized criminal activity, many groups have expanded their operations because of weak criminal justice systems and high levels of police corruption. Many of these groups have histories over several hundred years, involving “the ever expanding, hierarchical network that a person develops throughout life involving numerous reciprocal relationships and obligations to the people to whom one is bonded” (Morrison, 2003, p. 6). The strength of the Chinese Triads and the Japanese Yakuza are founded on these types of relationships in Asia.

One of the most important changes in the past two decades has been the introduction of new forms, or at least more sophisticated forms, of enterprise crime. Criminal groups are extensively involved in human smuggling and corruption, and contribute to the changing nature of the drug trade. There is evidence that many of the traditional groups in the area of human smuggling have been “replaced with small individual cells that operate independently and are motivated by financial gain rather than honor” (Mabrey, 2003, p. 8). This changing trend toward the “subcontracting” of criminal activities to street gangs and loosely tied affiliates poses a new dilemma for law enforcement in efforts to develop intelligence and clear cases. There is no effective mechanism in many of these developing countries to conduct sophisticated criminal investigations into organized crime. Many of the police and security forces lack both the training and technology necessary to carry out such investigations.

In addition to the illegal drug trade, the most common form of activity affecting countries with well-developed organized criminal syndicates is corruption. However, it is important to recognize that corruption takes many forms and may involve different levels of government as well as the private sector. In some countries, such as Japan, government corruption is tied largely to the private sector, which in turn is influenced in large measure by the Yakuza. In Singapore, there is very little corruption among government and police officials, and traditionally, this small country has been used largely as a transit point. On the other hand, low pay and low status contribute to widespread police and government corruption in Myanmar and Cambodia. Thailand, under the reform government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has cracked down heavily on drug trafficking, but the country remains a haven for pornography, the exploitation of women and children, and the illegal sex trade. Police corruption in the form of payoffs for overlooking the sex trade is common.

Improved international law enforcement networks have been strengthened through the efforts of the United Nations, Interpol, and other global organizations. In the private sector, groups such as the American Society of Industrial Security, which includes many members from multinational and global corporations, have also become more active in fostering cooperation and intelligence sharing. Another more recent approach has been the expansion of programs that assign law enforcement officers to other countries. Many of these officers work closely with their counterparts in the host country, focusing on the investigation of transnational organized criminal groups. The United States is the largest participant in assigning federal agents to other countries. The DEA, U.S. Customs Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Secret Service (responsible for controlling counterfeiting), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are but some of the American agencies with representatives abroad.

The U.S.-initiated International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEA) in Budapest, Bangkok, and Gabarone have cooperative relationships with host countries to provide training to police. The ILEA in Roswell, New Mexico, has trained police officials from more than 40 countries in management and focuses on strategic approaches to controlling international crime. Likewise, exchange programs such as those offered by the Office of International Criminal Justice and colleges and universities present criminal justice practitioners and academics the opportunity to study the successes and failures of other countries. Despite these efforts, Asian criminal organizations have continued to expand their activities, in many cases teaming up with criminal enterprise groups from countries throughout the world, including the American and Italian mafia, Colombian and Mexican cartels, the Russian Mafiya, and emerging groups in Eastern Europe. Organized crime now has its hand in the global community.