Smuggling in Southeast Asia

History and Its Contemporary Vectors in an Unbounded Region

Author: Eric Tagliacozzo


This article examines the historical roots of a contemporary phenomenon of large scope in Southeast Asia: smuggling and the movement of contraband commodities. Smuggling is by no means a new issue in this part of the world; states and proto-state polities have been identifying (and attempting to hunt down) smugglers for many centuries. Documentation for this war of wills is particularly voluminous once we enter the colonial period, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. The article analyzes these historical dimensions, and then traces these patterns through the passage of illicit "commodities" today. Two specific contraband lines are chosen as windows into these processes: the transit of narcotics and the movement of smuggled human beings. The essay argues that smuggling is a long-standing phenomenon in this region that is not likely to disappear as a feature of the Southeast Asian landscape anytime soon.

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