Organized Crime in Asia
- Narayanan GanapathyNarayanan GanapathyDepartment of Sociology, National University of Singapore
The significance of Asia’s rising economy and emergent foreign trade provides a conducive climate for the proliferation of organized crime. A reflexive exploration of organized crime in the Asian context ought to address two interrelated issues. The first relates to the ontological and epistemological effort to delineating Asia as a region that is not simply demarcated from the West, but one that houses diverse socio-political archetypes within itself. This issue of framing nuanced Asian perspectives within a normative Western-centric paradigm is linked to the second issue that is, evaluating the status of criminology as a “theoretical science” whose efficacy lies in its universal applicability. The corpus of existing Asia-centric research has been met with methodological challenges in the form of a reductive western orientalist lens that obscures larger economic and social complexities behind an exoticised “Asian uniqueness.”
Organized Crime (OC) in Asia is varied along the contours of geographical, sociological and cultural particularities, as well as the individual colonial legacies of the region’s societies. However, a particular commonality in the form of a symbiosis between syndicated criminals and state actors on either side of the law, the penetration of the underworld into seemingly aboveboard politics, and the consequent blurring of lines between licit and illicit markets has been identified. This is inextricably linked to the pernicious and prevalent problem of corruption and governance in many of the countries in Asia, a problem that has grown parallel to the exponential economic growth the continent has had witnessed since the 1990s.
Easy market access and rising consumer demand underline the prominence of drug production and trafficking as well as the global trade in counterfeit goods within Asian OC. The region’s defining feature of housing diversified nations lends itself to a transnationally proliferated and dynamic drug-related crime (DROC) and counterfeit trading syndicates, with different countries producing and trafficking different and newer drugs, and counterfeit goods for varied markets. The global interconnectivity, afforded by the internet through the digitalisation of contemporary OCs, has compounded the problem where access to anonymous borderless markets and cryptocurrency transactions has facilitated the displacement of lucrative drug and counterfeit crimes both spatially and tactically, leading to the circumvention of traditional forms of social control. The lack of collaboration and coordination among the Asian countries in tackling the illicit trade points to an urgent need to develop a more efficacious international legal framework and effective collaborative enforcement modalities to combat OC. One area of concern is how increasingly transnational OC groups and activities have become an important means of financially supporting terrorist operations that continue to proliferate Asia, prompting a rethink of the existing conceptual framework of the crime-terror nexus.