BEIJING (Dow Jones)–China suspended shipping along Southeast Asia’s Mekong River on Monday after attacks on Chinese cargo vessels left 13 sailors dead in what authorities say is the latest case of drug-related violence in the region.
Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle–the region where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet–is one of the top-producing regions for heroin and other illicit drugs and home to violent narcotics gangs. China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Thai authorities as saying the Chinese cargo vessels were hijacked in an attempt to smuggle drugs further downriver. Drugs often travel through the Thai capital of Bangkok on their way to international markets.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a daily news briefing Monday that the Chinese government had appealed to Thailand to boost shipping safety on the river. “The Foreign Ministry and other relevant departments and regions will continue to closely follow development of the incident,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.
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Xinhua quoted a Thai official as saying its personnel would aid the Chinese investigation and that it will cooperate with Chinese and Laotian officials to protect commercial shipping interests in the region.
Thai border troops seized the vessels and drugs on board on Wednesday after a gun battle with hijackers. The Chinese sailors’ bodies were discovered in northern Thailand between Friday and Monday, according to Xinhua. It wasn’t immediately clear when the vessels were hijacked.
The decision to suspend shipping along the Mekong was handed down by officials in China’s southwestern Yunnan province. Li Hui, a spokesman for Yunnan’s foreign affairs department, said the decision had been requested by a local shipping association and by Chinese sailors out of safety concerns. Li said the length of the suspension depended on an ongoing investigation into the hijacking.
The suspension of shipping is unlikely to disrupt major trade flows as boats along the Mekong typically serve local communities and aren’t connected to major economic centers.
-By Brian Spegele, The Wall Street Journal