A new study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has found that crime groups dealing in fake goods, drugs, human trafficking and illicit wildlife trade earn nearly $90 billion in East Asia and the Pacific.
The report, the first comprehensive study of crime in the region, detailed the vast scope of organized crime, its huge profits and its increasingly transnational nature.
The main moneymaking areas for East Asian and Pacific crime groups are people (human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants); narcotic drugs (heroin and methamphetamine); environment (wildlife, wood-based products, electronics waste and ozone-depleting substances); and goods (counterfeit goods and fraudulent medicines).
Each of these illegal activities is highly profitable.
The survey found that the trade in counterfeit goods had profits estimated at $24.4 billion in 2011. Illegal wood products brought in $17 billion and the heroin and methamphetamine trade, $31.3 billion. The dumping of electronics waste, in which Japan is particularly implicated, brought in $3.75 billion.
The report noted that criminal groups have taken advantage of improved distribution and logistical chains developed by legitimate companies and governments in the region.
The criminal groups have become economic parasites that prey on, exploit and interfere with legitimate business networks. The report also noted that the huge income from illegal activities has allowed criminal groups to infiltrate society, bringing corruption into legitimate areas of the economy. Illicit profits allow criminal organizations to buy property, assets and aboveboard companies.
Japan may see itself as an isolated pocket of safety and low crime; however, in reality, the country is involved in nearly all the criminal areas detailed in the report. Japan should participate more fully in efforts to control transnational organized crime.
Surely working together with other countries to fight crime is a better use of political effort than trying to tinker with the Constitution to remove restraints on the use of military forces overseas and weaken people’s constitutional rights.
Japan should recognize the problem and take practical steps to set up anti-crime strategies, networks and partnerships in the region. The key issues needed to respond to this threat include very doable measures such as improving border controls, coordinating law enforcement, reducing demand for illegal products, and systematically tracking the flow of money.
Because of its close economic relations with other Asian countries, Japan has an obligation to help develop anti-crime networks across national boundaries and work closely with other countries on countermeasures.
Without a systematic, organized and transnational effort, crime will increasingly undermine social stability and stifle economic growth.