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The Golden Triangle

Inside Southeast Asia's Drug Trade

Ko-lin Chin

Publication Year: 2009

The Golden Triangle region that joins Burma, Thailand, and Laos is one of the global centers of opiate and methamphetamine production. Opportunistic Chinese businessmen and leaders of various armed groups are largely responsible for the manufacture of these drugs. The region is defined by the apparently conflicting parallel strands of criminality and efforts at state building, a tension embodied by a group of individuals who are simultaneously local political leaders, drug entrepreneurs, and members of heavily armed militias.

Ko-lin Chin, a Chinese American criminologist who was born and raised in Burma, conducted five hundred face-to-face interviews with poppy growers, drug dealers, drug users, armed group leaders, law-enforcement authorities, and other key informants in Burma, Thailand, and China. The Golden Triangle provides a lively portrait of a region in constant transition, a place where political development is intimately linked to the vagaries of the global market in illicit drugs.

Chin explains the nature of opium growing, heroin and methamphetamine production, drug sales, and drug use. He also shows how government officials who live in these areas view themselves not as drug kingpins, but as people who are carrying the responsibility for local economic development on their shoulders.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Many people have contributed to this research project and I very much appreciate their assistance and support. First and foremost, I would like to thank Larry Chung, executive director of the International Foundation for the Peaceful Elimination of Opium Crops. ...

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Introduction: Into the Thick of It

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pp. 1-7

Burma is the second largest opium-producing country in the world after Afghanistan.1 Within Burma, most of the opium is grown in the Wa area of northeastern Shan State.2 Very few people have had access to the Wa area. The sale of opium, as well as the heroin and methamphetamine that is also produced there, enriches a small minority of merchants. ...

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1. The Golden Triangle and Burma

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pp. 8-16

One of the world’s major opium cultivation and heroin producing areas is the Golden Triangle, a 150,000-square-mile, mountainous region located where the borders of Burma, Laos, and Thailand meet (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2006). ...

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2. The Wa

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pp. 17-46

The Wa area is located in the Shan State of Burma (or Myanmar) and its official name is Myanmar Shan State No. 2 Special Region (Wa government). The Wa leaders refer to their region as the Wa State, to the dismay of Burmese authorities who have long resisted the idea that the Wa was a sovereign “state” or province, but was, instead, merely a special region.1 ...

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3. The Opium Trade

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pp. 47-85

Although there are numerous estimates of the amount of opium production in the Wa territory, we do not know how reliable these estimates are. In addition to the aggregate data, we need to know how Wa farmers view the act of growing opium. What are their reasons for participating in opium production? ...

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4. Heroin Production and Trafficking

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pp. 86-126

Because of the international subculture of heroin use, the opium business in the Wa Hills attracts the rapt attention of the world law enforcement community. According to the 1994 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of the U.S. Department of State, approximately 60 percent of the heroin consumed in the United States in 1994 came from Southeast Asia (SEA), ...

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5. The Methamphetamine Business

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pp. 127-154

While the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia has long been known as a major opium cultivation and heroin production center, in the past decade the area has also developed into an important base for methamphetamine production. ...

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6. Drug Use

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pp. 155-186

Most articles and books on the drug trade in the Golden Triangle have focused on the cultivation of opium and the production of heroin and methamphetamine for the world market, and have paid little attention to the negative impact of these drugs on the local population. ...

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7. Drug Control

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pp. 187-219

The drug trade in the Golden Triangle has been an international problem for more than half a century (McCoy 1972, 1991; Lintner 1994b; Renard 1996; Boucaud and Boucaud 1998), with the drug under scrutiny evolving from opium to heroin and, most recently, to methamphetamine (Phongpaichit, Piriyarangsan, and Teerat 1998; ...

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8. The Business and Politics of Drugs

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pp. 220-242

In this final chapter, I will focus on two issues: the question of who runs the drug trade, and how politics affects it. Many individuals or groups have been blamed for the drug trade in the Golden Triangle. I will examine the roles of several groups and suggest which groups of people are particularly active in the Golden Triangle’s drug business. ...

Appendix: Names in Pinyin Romanization and Other Spellings

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pp. 243-244


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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259-274


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pp. 275-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780801458439
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801446665

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 630718424
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Golden Triangle

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Drug traffic -- Burma -- Shan State.
  • Drug traffic -- Golden Triangle (Southeast Asia).
  • Wa (Burmese people) -- Commerce.
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