106th joint patrol of Mekong River to begin

China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand will today begin the 106th joint patrol of the Mekong River in recognition of the

Mekong river patrol 2

Photo: The Star

China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand will today begin the 106th joint patrol of the Mekong River in recognition of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Largely symbolic, patrols are too limited to meaningfully impact the drug trade in the Golden Triangle, the world’s largest methamphetamine and opiate producing region. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has identified multilateral institutions and intelligence sharing as the most effective counters to drug trafficking.

The Mekong region is a growing center of trade and economic growth in the wider Southeast Asia region. China’s total trade with Mekong countries exceeded $260 billion in 2018. Mekong’s economic significance is placing it in a battle for regional influence between Australia and China. Both countries are seeking leadership in counter-drug operations as a method to gain influence in the Mekong. Last year Australia set aside $30 million for a new Mekong-Australia Program on Transnational Crime.

Expect Australia to use this program to integrate Australian law enforcement and government agencies with regional governments. China, which generally shies away from information sharing, will likely pursue additional Border Liaison Offices as physical checkpoints and bases of operations for multilateral counter-drug operations and patrols.

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