Organized and Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia

Organized and transnational crimes have become a significant concern in Southeast Asia in the past several decades. The region shows high levels of Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) and other offenders’ activities; moreover, the measures to reduce human and drug trafficking along with money laundering have been ineffective, too. This report aims at discussing the types of security challenges societies of Southeast Asia encounter due to organized and transnational crime. The paper analyzes the threats to the countries’ security, the potential causes of the rapid development of illegal activities, and the tools available for preventing these activities. In addition, the report discusses the impact of transnational crime in understandings of security and analyzes the primary threats to the populations’ safety. The paper argues that human trafficking, drug trafficking, and money laundering are some of the most acute security challenges that societies in Southeast Asia encounter today.

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Security Challenges in Southeast Asia

In recent decades, organized and transnational crime has become an acute concern of the Southeast Asia region. TCOs presents a critical threat to societies living in the area. Initially, the police and security agencies were assigned to manage organizations’ operations; however, traditional military capabilities are not adequate for neutralization of TCOs’ networks1. It is necessary to mention that the most active transnational organized crime markets in the region include drugs and precursor chemicals, wildlife and timber trafficking, money structuring, human trafficking and smuggling of migrants, and falsified medicines2. This paper will show that human and drug trafficking, along with money laundering, can be considered some of the most significant types of organized and transnational types among the mentioned ones.

Notably, the development of the region can be considered one of the factors contributing to the growth of organized and transnational crime. The shift to the market economy has led to the rapid growth of the private industry, while the extensive implementation of technologies and telecommunications has simplified business operations. As a result, the volume of transacted goods has increased dramatically, making it hard for governing agencies to monitor the types of shipped products and their quality3. Globalization has allowed TCOs and terrorists to utilize its benefits for their purposes. Offenders use social media, the Internet, and different means of transport for the sex trade, drug dealing, human trafficking, as well as selling weapons and rare animal species. In addition, today, TCOs have all means for communicating with each other and their supporters globally; they can promote their services and find their target audience easily.

Another potential cause of the concentration of illegal activities in the region is the growing need for food, the uneven levels of economic development throughout Southeast Asia, and extensive resource use4. These issues result in overfishing, conflicting marine resource ownership claims, at-sea conflicts, and social unrest, which affects the region’s security. It is also possible to name socioeconomic conditions, such as poverty, weak institutional capacity, population growth, and gender inequality as the potential causes of transnational and organized crime in the region5. Although some of these challenges affect other countries too, the statistical data on Southeast Asia presented below shows that the area has the largest number of victims of illegal activities globally.

The authorities of the region’s countries have expressed their concern considering the lack of tools to stop TCOs and terrorist organizations from spreading their ideology6. It means that it is vital to prevent the growth of transnational and organized crime in Southeast Asia by challenging its paradigm of low risks and high profits7. Otherwise, the population will continue to live in an unsafe environment due to the existing security issues. The report will discuss the security challenges from the perspectives of human trafficking, drug trafficking, and money laundering in detail.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking can be seen as one of the most critical concerns in Southeast Asia, as it is a severe violation of human rights. Human trafficking is one of the forms of extreme exploitation, standing along with forced marriage and forced labor8. The latter is also a growing concern in the region, as many people are exploited in the fishing industry and are forced to perform physically demanding tasks, work long hours, and be at a high risk of injuries due to the lack of equipment9. These individuals cannot leave the job because they experience abuse of power, violence, and threats. Notably, the majority of victims trafficked globally comes from Southeast Asia; they are usually trafficked from less developed areas in the region, such as Myanmar and Cambodia, to more developed ones, including China and Thailand10 11. In addition, more than 60% of trafficked individuals are victimized in Asia12. It is necessary to mention that the global retail value of this type of transnational crime is more than $150,000,00013. Thus, it is evident that today, the problem is motivated by profit maximization.

The majority of trafficked victims are females; they contribute to more than 85% of individuals trafficked in Malaysia, almost 60% of those exploited in Myanmar, and 60% of individuals trafficked in Thailand14. Women and girls and trafficked for sexual exploitation, which is a significant concern in most countries of Southeast Asia. It is vital to mention that the problem develops with time; for example, in 2016, the number of sex trafficking cases was around 60% in Malaysia, while in 2018, it reached almost 75%15. Today, human trafficking continues to be one of the primary activities of terrorist groups and insurgent activities, and the development of the Internet and technologies has allowed offenders to reach victims and victimizers more easily.

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It is vital to mention that human trafficking affects vulnerable populations and communities significantly. It tends to target homeless, uneducated, poor, and marginalized groups particularly16. Illegal migrants are especially susceptible to human trafficking, which is an acute issue in Southeast Asia. The countries of Southeast Asia have implemented measures to combat human trafficking. For instance, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have been established in some of the countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand, to promote and protect human rights17. Unfortunately, the analysis of human trafficking rates in the region suggests that currently, the authorities cannot ensure the elimination of the problem.

Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking represents one of the most profitable types of transnational crimes in the world. The estimated retail value of drug trafficking globally is between $425,000,000 and $650,000,000 annually18. Drug trafficking has been a significant problem in the Southeast Asia for a long time19. In the region, the majority of illegal trafficking groups comes from and through Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines20. The problem is so severe that the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has enacted some of the strictest anti-drug policies in the world; for instance, drug trafficking can result in capital punishment for the offender21. At the same time, it is possible to see that even tough measures cannot eliminate the problem.

Today, Southeast Asia comprises one-half of the world’s users of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS)22. The possible reason for such a level of drug trafficking in the region is that countries in the area can use maritime borders as transit points for ATS, heroin, and cocaine shipments. Due to this reason, TCOs have continued to target Malaysia as a major transit country for drug trafficking23. The problem is especially acute because many nationals engage in illegal activities, too, helping offenders to transport drugs between networks in their suitcases, shoes, and clothes. This fact reveals that it is challenging for the government to ensure security for the population, as many individuals participate in drug trafficking voluntarily without gaining profit from it24. At the same time, one can see that such operations may be dangerous, as nationals are dealing with the representatives of criminal organizations.

Money Laundering

Money laundering is another significant concern of the Southeast Asia region. Its process can be described as making “dirty money” appear to be clean and legitimate25. As a result of this process, this type of currency can be used for business transactions, which results in a decreased stability of the region’s financial institutions and banking systems in general. Money laundering can be considered a crucial security challenge for Southeast Asia because it involves highly diverse operations that may be difficult to trace and identify26. Another problem associated with this type of transnational crime is that it includes cyber-attacks aimed at helping offenders to steal money from banks27. As a result, the population of the Southeast Asia region is always a potential risk to lose their savings at any moment.

TCOs will continue to engage in money laundering as long as there is a market for illegal products. Southeast Asia has tried to implement various strategies to stop such a practice. For instance, the authorities of the region have implemented measures to improve their intelligence capacities, construct fences along the countries’ borders, enact anti-terrorism policies, and even kill criminals28. Although these approaches minimize the effects of transnational crime for a short time, offenders have been finding ways to perform illegal activities in other countries of the region29. As a result, Southeast Asia faces the challenge of the lack of financial security and poor economic outcomes.

It is possible to say that money laundering is not the most significant problem the region encounters compared to human and drug trafficking; thus, the governments should try to take preventive measures on all levels. For example, they should neutralize the potential facilitators of money laundering, including bankers, real estate brokers, attorneys, and accountants30. In addition, it is crucial to ensure transparency in all economic transactions, which can help the authorities to distinguish between illicit and legal actions. The Southeast Asia region has established several committees and initiatives to perform such strategies, including the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (1990), Financial Action Task Force of G7 countries (1989)31. However, the analysis of the existing evidence on money laundering in the area suggests that the problem remains a crucial concern today, although its effects may not be as severe as the ones of human and drug trafficking.

The Impact of Transnational Crime in Understanding Security

The points presented above show that the growth of transnational crime rates has led to changes in understanding security in the region. For instance, it has become evident that the traditional methods of combating such crimes, including military ones, are ineffective due to the high level of development of the problem. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has analyzed the necessity of improving security measures in the area and worked together with law enforcement experts and analysts from the ASEAN. Together, the organizations work on assessing threats and collecting information about the major crime flows, such as drugs, people, the environment, and counterfeit goods32. It has become evident that organized crime groups now have a significant influence on the population and their partners, controlling multibillion-dollar industries.

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The impact of transnational crime has allowed the governments of Southeast Asia to develop new sets of strategies aimed at addressing the issue. First, there is a need for tightening the migrant domestic worker migratory flows and establish partnership arrangements with private sectors33. As mentioned above, the immigrant population is one of the target groups of human trafficking, which means that it is vital to protect this group. Second, it has also become clear that the governments must work on improving societies’ security on all levels. For instance, money laundering poses a significant threat to the countries’ and populations’ economic security, as well as the global reputation of the Southeast Asia region. The reason for it is the number of illegal financial and economic transactions, which places the Southeast Asia states in the position where they knowingly or unknowingly support the maintenance of such an illegal structure34. Thus, it is evident that transnational crime has motivated the region’s authorities to perceive their security measures differently and strengthen them to avoid damages to their reputation and prevent risks for the population.

In addition, it is crucial to mention political security, which has also become under threat due to transnational crime. Currently, the region encounters challenges in facing external threats, such as those posed by terrorists, TCOs, and other illegal organizations. Finally, Southeast Asia’s cybersecurity is also under threat because of the rapid growth of crime rates. As mentioned above, the lack of cybersecurity can result in an adverse effect on the populations’ savings and financial transactions, as well as the quality of their lives in general.

It is necessary to address the fact that transnational crime has increased public awareness of the issue of maritime security. It has become clear that the region needs well-developed strategies to protect facilities of maritime affairs, secure them against piracy, as well as improve port and resource security35. For instance, the battle for Marawi has shown how terrorist organizations can oppress the region’s military by using a vast number of illicit weapons and other illegal firearms36. Due to the development of transnational crime, maritime security has become one of the most significant concerns of the ASEAN. The related issues that arise in Southeast Asia include maintaining the safety of navigation, especially in the South China Sea, and completing jurisdictional claims to ensure the safety of the region’s population37. Currently, the analysis of the evidence shows that maritime security may be one of the priorities of the region’s governments, as the appropriate measures can minimize drug and human trafficking.

In addition, the rise of transnational crime has changed the perception of the use of the regional sea lines of communication. For example, the decision to increase military, paramilitary, and commercial traffic is now a debatable topic, as it can enhance the risk of threatening the freedom and safety of navigation38. Thus, transnational crime affects the ways of understanding security in Southeast Asia, the operations of the region, and the measures its authorities implement to mitigate adverse outcomes.

Conclusion

The report shows that human and drug trafficking, along with money laundering, are some of the most acute security challenges posed to societies by transnational crime. Figures reveal that human trafficking rates in Southeast Asia are among the highest in the world, which proves that the issue is a significant concern. Drug trafficking levels are growing in the region, too; it may be caused by the accessibility of maritime borders and the availability of ways to transfer drugs. Money laundering remains an acute problem as it involves operations that may be challenging to identify. Transnational crime has a vital impact on understanding security, as it shows that traditional ways of combating illegal activities are ineffective. In addition, this type of crime raises the questions of economic and political safety and affects the region’s decisions, including those regarding the increase of commercial and military traffic.

Bibliography

Camp, Meghan A., John R. Barner, and David Okech. “Implications of Human Trafficking in Asia: A Scoping Review of Aftercare Initiatives Centered on Economic Development.” Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work 15, no. 2 (2018): 204-214.

Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Southeast Asia in 2019: Four Issues to Watch.” Web.

Chiew-Ping, Hoo. “The Impact of East Asian Security Challenges on Southeast Asia”. 2019. Web.

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Culbert, Gabriel J et al. “Confronting the HIV, Tuberculosis, Addiction, and Incarceration Syndemic in Southeast Asia: Lessons Learned from Malaysia.” Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology 11, no. 3 (2016): 446-455.

Elias, Juanita. “Governing Domestic Worker Migration in Southeast Asia: Public–Private Partnerships, Regulatory Grey Zones and the Household.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 48, no. 2 (2018): 278-300.

Global Financial Integrity. “Transnational Crime and the Developing World”. 2019. Web.

Luong, Hai Thanh. “Transnational Drugs Trafficking from West Africa to Southeast Asia: A Case Study of Vietnam.” Journal of Law and Criminal Justice 3, no. 2 (2015): 37-54.

Obokata, Tom. “The Value of International Law in Combating Transnational Organized Crime in the Asia-Pacific.” Asian Journal of International Law 7, no. 1 (2017): 39-60.

Omar, Normah, Razana Juhaida Johari, Muhammad Asri Mohamed Azam, and NurulAini Othmanul Hakim. “Mitigating Money Laundering: The Role of Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions in Southeast Asian Countries.” In A New Paradigm for International Business, edited by Hadrian Geri Djajadikerta and Zhaoyong Zhang, 285-294. Singapore: Springer, 2015.

Pomeroy, Robert, John Parks, Kitty Courtney, and Nives Match. “Improving Marine Fisheries Management in Southeast Asia: Results of a Regional Fisheries Stakeholder Analysis.” Marine Policy 65, (2016): 20-29.

Renshaw, Catherine. “Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia: Uncovering the Dynamics of State Commitment and Compliance.” Michigan Journal of International Law 37, no. 4 (2016): 611-659.

Son, Nguyen Hung. “ASEAN-Japan Strategic Partnership in Southeast Asia: Maritime Security and Cooperation.” Beyond (2015): 214-227.

Srikanth, H. “Combating Transnational Crimes in the Era of Globalization: Strategies for India and the ASEAN.” International Studies 53, no. 2 (2016): 91-104.

Sumpter, Cameron, and Joseph Franco. “Migration, Transnational Crime and Terrorism: Exploring the Nexus in Europe and Southeast Asia.” Perspectives on Terrorism 12, no. 5 (2018): 36-50.

Suphanchaimat, Rapeepong, Nareerut Pudpong, and Viroj Tangcharoensathien. “Extreme Exploitation in Southeast Asia Waters: Challenges in Progressing Towards Universal Health Coverage for Migrant Workers.” PLOS Medicine 14, no. 11(2017), Web.

Tan, See Seng, and Hitoshi Nasu. “ASEAN and the Development of Counter-Terrorism Law and Policy in Southeast Asia.” UNSW Law Journal 39, no. 3 (2016): 1219-1238.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact”. Web.

Zimmerman, Cathy, and Ligia Kiss. “Human Trafficking and Exploitation: A Global Health Concern.” PLOS Medicine 14, no. 11 (2017), Web.

Footnotes

  1. Tom Obokata, “The Value of International Law in Combating Transnational Organized Crime in the Asia-Pacific”, Asian Journal of International Law 7, no. 1 (2017): 41.
  2. “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact”, Web.
  3. Tom Obokata, “The Value of International Law in Combating Transnational Organized Crime in the Asia-Pacific”, Asian Journal of International Law 7, no. 1 (2017): 44.
  4. Robert Pomeroy, John Parks, Kitty Courtney, and Nives Mattich, “Improving Marine Fisheries Management in Southeast Asia: Results of a Regional Fisheries Stakeholder Analysis”, Marine Policy 65, (2016): 20-29.
  5. Robert Pomeroy, John Parks, Kitty Courtney, and Nives Mattich, “Improving Marine Fisheries Management in Southeast Asia: Results of a Regional Fisheries Stakeholder Analysis”, 20-29.
  6. See Seng Tan and Hitoshi Nasu, “ASEAN and the Development of Counter-Terrorism Law and Policy in Southeast Asia”, UNSW Law Journal 39, no. 3 (2016): 1219-1238.
  7. Global Financial Integrity, “Transnational Crime and the Developing World”, Web.
  8. Cathy Zimmerman and Ligia Kiss, “Human Trafficking and Exploitation: A Global Health Concern”, PLOS Medicine 14, no. 11 (2017), Web.
  9. Rapeepong Suphanchaimat, Nareerut Pudpong, and Viroj Tangcharoensathien, “Extreme Exploitation in Southeast Asia Waters: Challenges in Progressing Towards Universal Health Coverage for Migrant Workers”, PLOS Medicine 14, no. 11(2017), Web.
  10. Meghan A. Camp, John R. Barner, and David Okech. “Implications of Human Trafficking in Asia: A Scoping Review of Aftercare Initiatives Centered on Economic Development.” Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work 15, no. 2 (2018): 204.
  11. “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact”.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Global Financial Integrity, “Transnational Crime and the Developing World”, Web.
  14. “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact”.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Catherine Renshaw, “Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia: Uncovering the Dynamics of State Commitment and Compliance”, Michigan Journal of International Law 37, no. 4 (2016): 611-659.
  18. Global Financial Integrity, “Transnational Crime and the Developing World”, Web.
  19. “Southeast Asia in 2019: Four Issues to Watch”, Web.
  20. Hai Thanh Luong, “Transnational Drugs Trafficking from West Africa to Southeast Asia: A Case Study of Vietnam”, Journal of Law and Criminal Justice 3, no. 2 (2015): 38
  21. Gabriel J Culbert, et al. “Confronting the HIV, Tuberculosis, Addiction, and Incarceration Syndemic in Southeast Asia: Lessons Learned from Malaysia.” Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology 11, no. 3 (2016): 446.
  22. Hai Thanh Luong, “Transnational Drugs Trafficking from West Africa to Southeast Asia: A Case Study of Vietnam”, 40.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Hai Thanh Luong, “Transnational Drugs Trafficking from West Africa to Southeast Asia: A Case Study of Vietnam”, 40.
  25. Normah Omar, Razana Juhaida Johari, Muhammad Asri Mohamed Azam, and NurulAini Othmanul Hakim, “Mitigating Money Laundering: The Role of Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions in Southeast Asian Countries”, In A New Paradigm for International Business, ed. Hadrian Geri Djajadikerta and Zhaoyong Zhang (Singapore: Springer, 2015), 285-294.
  26. Normah Omar, Razana Juhaida Johari, Muhammad Asri Mohamed Azam, and NurulAini Othmanul Hakim, “Mitigating Money Laundering: The Role of Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professions in Southeast Asian Countries”, 285-294.
  27. Hoo Chiew-Ping, “The Impact of East Asian Security Challenges on Southeast Asia”, Web.
  28. H Srikanth, “Combating Transnational Crimes in the Era of Globalization: Strategies for India and the ASEAN”, International Studies 53, no. 2 (2016): 91-104.
  29. Srikanth, “Combating Transnational Crimes in the Era of Globalization: Strategies for India and the ASEAN”, 91-104.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Srikanth, “Combating Transnational Crimes in the Era of Globalization: Strategies for India and the ASEAN”, 91-104.
  32. “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact”.
  33. Juanita Elias, “Governing Domestic Worker Migration in Southeast Asia: Public–Private Partnerships, Regulatory Grey Zones and the Household.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 48, vol. 2 (2018): 278.
  34. Hoo Chiew-Ping, “The Impact of East Asian Security Challenges on Southeast Asia”, Web..
  35. Nguyen Hung Son, “ASEAN-Japan Strategic Partnership in Southeast Asia: Maritime Security and Cooperation”, Beyond (2015): 214-227.
  36. Cameron Sumpter and Joseph Franco, “Migration, Transnational Crime and Terrorism: Exploring the Nexus in Europe and Southeast Asia”, Perspectives on Terrorism 12, no. 5 (2018): 36-50.
  37. Son, “ASEAN-Japan Strategic Partnership in Southeast Asia: Maritime Security and Cooperation”, 214-227.
  38. Ibid.
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StudyCorgi. "Organized and Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia." May 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/organized-and-transnational-crime-in-southeast-asia/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Organized and Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia." May 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/organized-and-transnational-crime-in-southeast-asia/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Organized and Transnational Crime in Southeast Asia'. 31 May.

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