Manhunt shows China sway in southeast Asia

The bodies of the Chinese,the crew of two cargo boats,were found badly mutilated on the Thai side of the river in early October 2011.

Written by New York Times | Published: April 6, 2013 3:23 am

It was 100 miles downstream from China,on the banks of the Mekong River,where a notorious drug lord slipped ashore in the dusk into the hands of law enforcement.

Security officials from Laos arrested the trafficker,Naw Kham,but the international manhunt that led to his capture was organized in Beijing,by top Chinese government officials intent on making him pay for the killings of 13 Chinese seamen on the river,which has become a major trade route into China.

The bodies of the Chinese,the crew of two cargo boats,were found badly mutilated on the Thai side of the river in early October 2011. The killings,the worst slaughter of Chinese citizens abroad in recent memory,angered the Chinese public. Chinese investigators insist that Naw Kham was the mastermind of the murders.

China’s search for Naw Kham,overseen by its powerful Ministry of Public Security,was a hard-nosed display of the government’s political and economic clout across Laos,Myanmar and Thailand,the three countries of Southeast Asia that form the Golden Triangle. The capture shows how China’s law enforcement tentacles reach far beyond its borders into a region now drawn by investment and trade into China’s orbit,and where the United States’ influence is being challenged.

It took six months for China to catch Naw Kham,a citizen of Myanmar in his 40s,a man of many aliases who was at the centre of the booming synthetic drug business in Golden Triangle,once known for its opium.

What came next was quick: the authorities flew the drug lord from Laos to China,tried him in a provincial court and executed him last month in a highly publicized live television broadcast that captured the proceedings until just moments before he received a lethal injection.

The hunt for Naw Kham was methodical and unyielding.

Immediately after the killings of the sailors,the Chinese government invited senior officials from the three countries that form the Golden Triangle to Beijing.

There,it pressured the countries to participate in Chinese-led river patrols,intended to ensure security for the river trade. Meng Jianzhu,who was China’s minister for public security,flew to Myanmar to meet with President Thein Sein,and Wen Jiabao,then China’s prime minister,spoke by telephone to his Thai counterpart,Yingluck Shinawatra,to urge her cooperation.

Chinese news media reported Liu’s superiors had ordered that Naw Kham be captured alive. Liu,whose anti-narcotics bureau runs a fleet of unarmed drones for surveillance in China’s border areas,insisted that the idea was shelved due to legal restraints.

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