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Radio Free Asia: Southeast Asia’s Authoritarian Rule Undercut by ‘Narco-State’ and ‘Scam-States’

The year 2023 has been one of disorder in Southeast Asia. War is still raging in Myanmar, where perhaps thousands of civilians were killed this year, on top of hundreds more soldiers and anti-junta fighters. ASEAN, the regional bloc, has failed yet again to either bring the warring parties to the negotiation table or, as a result, take a sterner position on the military government that took power through a coup in early 2021. A consequence of the escalation of political violence in Myanmar has been the proliferation of crime. According to the Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2023, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the country reclaimed the spot as the world’s biggest opium producer, with the area of land used to grow the illicit crop increasing by 18 percent to 47,100 hectares in 2023, compared to the previous year.


The report noted that “although the area under cultivation has not returned to historic peaks of nearly 58,000 ha (143,300 acres) cultivated in 2013, after three consecutive years of increases, poppy cultivation in Myanmar is expanding and becoming more productive.” 

At the same time, production of methamphetamine has also increased.  One result has been to flood the rest of Southeast Asia with cheap drugs. On Dec. 13, the Thai police seized 50 million methamphetamine tablets near the Myanmar border, the country’s largest-ever drug bust and the second largest in Asia.  Alastair McCready, reporting for Al Jazeera in November, noted that yaba pills—combination of methamphetamine and caffeine—are selling for US$0.24 cents each in Laos.  The flood of drugs has led to an explosion of other criminal activity. Radio Free Asia has reported on the growing anger of ordinary Laotians about the authorities inability to investigate even petty crimes, which has been compounded by the ongoing economic crisis in the communist state, another indication of the disorder now infecting the region.


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