THE CHINESE ONLINE DRUG TRADE [ONLINE ILLEGAL DRUGS FOR SALE IN CHINA] SHANGHAI — Ordering illegal drugs from China is as easy as typing on a keyboard.
On guidechem.com, more than 150 Chinese companies sell alpha-PVP, also known as flakka, a dangerous stimulant that is illegal in the United States but not in China, and was blamed for 18 recent deaths in one Florida county.
The e-commerce portal Qinjiayuan sells air-conditioners, trampolines and a banned hallucinogen known as spice, which set off a devastating spike in United States emergency room visits in April.
The stimulant mephedrone, sometimes sold as “bath salts,” is banned in China but readily for sale at the Nanjing Takanobu Chemical Company for about $1,400 a pound.
“I can handle this for you legally or illegally,” a company salesman said by phone when asked about shipping the product overseas from the company’s headquarters in coastal Jiangsu Province. “How much do you want?”
In a country that has perfected the art of Internet censorship, the open online drug market is just the most blatant example of what international law enforcement officials say is China’s reluctance to take action as it has emerged as a major player in the global supply chain for synthetic drugs.
While China says it has made thousands of arrests and “joined hands” with foreign law enforcement agencies, officials from several countries say Chinese authorities have shown little interest in seriously combating what they see as the drug problems of other countries.
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“They just didn’t see what was in it for them to look into their own industries exporting these chemicals,” said Jorge Guajardo, the former Mexican ambassador to China.
China’s chemical factories and drug traffickers have exploited this opportunity, turning the nation into a leading producer and exporter of synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, as well as the compounds used to manufacture them, according to seizure and trafficking route data compiled by American and international law enforcement agencies.
China is now the source of a majority of the ingredients needed to manufacture methamphetamine by Mexican drug traffickers, who produce 90 percent of the meth consumed in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
As governments around the world have stepped up regulation of these so-called precursor chemicals, the Mexican cartels have increasingly turned to Chinese chemical factories.
Mr. Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador from 2007 to 2013, said his efforts to persuade Chinese authorities to restrict the export of these chemicals, which are banned in Mexico, came to naught. Instead, he said, Chinese officials said the problem was best handled by Mexican customs agents or claimed that Mexico’s written requests for assistance had used the incorrect typeface or were improperly translated into Chinese.
“In all my time there, the Chinese never showed any willingness to cooperate on stemming the flow of precursors into Mexico,” he said in a telephone interview.
At the same time, clandestine Chinese labs manufacture and export their own meth and other synthetic drugs around the world. In 2013, the police dismantled nearly 390 meth labs in China, more than in any other country in the region, according to a United Nations report released in May.
These manufacturers have flourished in part because the country’s huge chemical industry is weakly regulated and poorly monitored, officials say, making it easy for criminal syndicates to divert chemicals with legitimate uses in making medicine, fertilizer and pesticides into the production of new and dangerous drugs.
The labs have also figured out how to stay one step ahead of laws banning illicit synthetic drugs simply by tweaking a few molecules, creating new and not-yet-illegal drugs.
Since 2008, the number of new psychoactive substances reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has soared more than eightfold to 541, far outpacing the 244 drugs controlled under global conventions. Often sold as “legal highs” and “research chemicals,” these drugs are designed specifically to exploit an outdated international legal framework.
Some countries, including the United States, have banned whole ranges of chemicals that mimic illegal drugs, but many nations do not. The European Union in particular, with its open borders and disparate drug laws, provides ample opportunity for smuggling contraband.
“Drug traffickers take advantage of this,” said Soren Pedersen, a spokesman for the European police agency Europol. “As soon as a substance becomes illegal in Germany, they can just divert it to Denmark, Sweden or Austria.”
“Hands down China is No. 1,” said a federal law enforcement official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
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