China blames country's rise in violent crime on drug smuggling from South-east Asia

BEIJING (Reuters) - An increase in the smuggling of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine from South-east Asia has fuelled a rise in violent crime in China this year, a state-run newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"China is facing a grim task in curbing synthetic drugs, including 'ice', which more and more of China's drug addicts tend to use," the official China Daily quoted Liu Yuejin, head of the Public Security Ministry's Narcotics Control Bureau as saying, referring to the street name for methamphetamine. "Compared with traditional drugs, such as heroine and opium, methamphetamine can easily lead to mental problems," he added. "Addicts will be prone to extreme and violent behaviour, including murder and kidnapping."

In the first nine months of the year, the police recorded more than 100 incidents of violent crime blamed on methamphetamine, more than the total number seen in the previous five years, Mr Liu said.

Methamphetamine was being smuggled into China's south-western province of Yunnan and region of Guangxi, both of which border South-east Asia, the newspaper said.

Last year, the Yunnan police confiscated more than 9 tonnes of methamphetamine that had been smuggled in from Myanmar, while drugs have also been coming in from Vietnam, it added.

China has stepped up cooperation with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand to help tackle the problem, the report said.

Mr Liu added that China was suspected of having 14 million drug users, five times more than official numbers, and about half of them use methamphetamine.

Over the past 50 days, the police have detained almost 24,000 people suspected of involvement in drugs and seized 12.1 tonnes of drugs, the ministry said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.

Drug-related crimes carry harsh penalties in China including death or life imprisonment in serious cases.

The government has in recent months stepped up its fight against the problem, arresting a string of celebrities, including the son of Hong Kong gongfu movie star Jackie Chan.

The use of drugs in China, particularly synthetic drugs like methamphetamine, ketamine and ecstasy, has grown along with the rise of a new urban class with greater disposable income.

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