06/14/2024, 13.24
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From Southeast Asia to the United States, Chinese criminal networks are a global threat

by Steve Suwannarat

A report by the United States Institute of Peace highlights the danger. Since 2021, the growing influence of criminal groups has affected individuals and the national security of individual states. For experts, more coordination between Beijing and Washington is needed. Such criminal networks have a turnover of US$ 64 billion.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – A report by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) analyses the origin and size of mostly Chinese transnational criminal networks, which use information technologies for their ever-expanding activities.

As of 2021, the growing influence of such criminal groups has come to directly threaten human security and constitute a mounting threat to national security in many countries, including the United States.

“Organized crime is a significant driver of conflict globally. It preys on weak governance, slack law enforcement, and inadequate regulation. It tears at the fabric of societies by empowering and enriching armed actors and fueling violent conflict. In Asia, criminal groups prop up corrupt and dangerous regimes from Myanmar to North Korea, posing a direct threat to regional stability,” reads the final report of USIP's Senior Study Group on Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia.

The document highlights how “these networks have used their power and influence to develop a web of scam compounds within the region, centered primarily in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, but involving most other countries of the region in the management of their operations and fraudulent proceeds.”

Going further, it underlines “how the criminal groups utilize advanced technology, how they gain control over weak and corrupt governments, how they traffic labor and deploy torture to engage victims in forced criminality, how they launder stolen funds, and how they attempt to whitewash their criminal activity.”

The efforts to contain and combat the problem requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the causes, effects, power, reach, and methods of operation of criminal groups, because a different approach for each country would be defeated, given the ability of criminal groups to move across borders to avoid the law.

For this reason, there is a need for coordination between the United States and China, as the main victims of this "industry", so as not to leave further openings for criminal networks.

The report first highlights the damage that the situation in Southeast Asia poses to the United States. It is estimated, for example, that in 2023 US and Canadian citizens lost US$ three billion and 350 million respectively to scamming and fraud originating in this region of Asia.

The arrest of four US-based individuals who were allegedly responsible for laundering US$ 80 million in scam profits confirms that the groups are now active outside their region of origin.

Realising that US citizens are now the most exposed to criminal financial activities, the Department of Justice in Washington noted that online scams could soon rival Fentanyl among the greatest risks posed by China's ruthless criminal networks.

Globally, it is estimated that scams earned criminal networks US$ 64 billion last year, including US$ 43 billion in Southeast Asia, equivalent to 40 per cent of the combined GDP of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.

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