A rising tide of methamphetamine arriving by air and sea in recent months points to an undeniable reality - Hong Kong has become firmly planted as the gateway to East Asia for Mexico's methamphetamine trade.
On April 10, customs officials in Hong Kong announced they'd uncovered $51 million USD worth of liquid and crystal methamphetamine in two separate raids. The drugs arrived in separate air cargo in March, on their way from Mexico to Australia.
An unprecedented 700-kilogram haul, these latest seizures were found stashed in industrial rubber and electrical transformers, a tactic that has also been used to smuggle cocaine through Hong Kong.
The March seizures join two others in January of this year, contributing to a trend of heightened methamphetamine traffic passing through Hong Kong.
In total, authorities have confiscated 774 kilograms of methamphetamine in the opening months of 2022. According to Hong Kong customs archives, this dwarfs the roughly 53 kilograms seized during the same timeline last year.
The shift eastward is a no-brainer for Mexico's drug traffickers. East Asia represents a large portion of global methamphetamine demand and traffickers appear to be increasingly sourcing the drug from Mexico.
Hong Kong stands as a bridge between the two regional drug markets.
For their part, Mexican drug traffickers are eager to fill the gap in supply. Pushing further east means higher price mark-ups for illicit narcotics. Furthermore, they have spent years increasing potency levels to the point where Mexican methamphetamine is now sought out in Asian markets.
InSight Crime has previously reported on the importance of Hong Kong in servicing the Asian cocaine trade, but the recent string of seizures highlights how methamphetamine is passing through in greater quantities as well.
As a major node in global trade routes, and a natural launching point towards the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong is uniquely equipped to service one of the world's largest methamphetamine markets. Hong Kong International Airport especially, received more air cargo, at over 5 million metric tons, than any other airport in 2021. Port traffic is equally immense.
Local officials have long recognized Hong Kong's status as a waypoint for drug trafficking. Hong Kong's airport has captured synthetic drugs passing from Europe to Japan, as well as methamphetamine traveling to Guam. Alongside South Korea, it's emerged as a favored link for Mexican drug exports.
Two of the largest criminal triads in Hong Kong, the 14K and Sun Yee On, have well-established transnational drug trafficking routes to the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. These triads are heavily involved in the "yaba" market, a low-cost combination of methamphetamine and caffeine.
Like their Latin American counterparts, these groups are more likely to use shipping containers to conceal illicit substances in bulk. However, given the fact that China makes up a substantial portion of global methamphetamine demand, overland trafficking to the mainland is well-documented from Hong Kong.