Similar to other organized crime organizations, Chinese organized crime groups have evolved under the influence of the number of social, economic, and legal conditions. At the same time, Chinese organized crime has its peculiarities. For instance, it can be characterized as an ethnic organized group that operates as a combination of independent groups, rather than a single organization. However, the expanding nature of Chinese organized crime creates a threat to international peace and security. Chinese criminal groups have established alliances with Dominican, Mexican, Colombian, and Italian crime groups, as well as maintain the relations with the Mainland China. Thus, there is a particular reason to analyze the Chinese crime organizations in order to develop a better understanding of the phenomenon, as well as create strategies for addressing the existing criminal activities.
There are 60 different triads operating in Hong Kong only. Among the biggest and most influential criminal organizations, there is the 14K triad. This group was found in the late 1940s in Guangzhou by Nationalist army lieutenant-general Kot Siu-wong. The aim of the organization was to establish opposition to the communist regime. When the communists came to power, Mao Zedong targeted the most important sphere of the triads business, such as opium trade. As a result, the organized crime groups, including the 14K triad, had to relocate to Hong Kong. During the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the triad experienced the period of its biggest development. In particular, due to the corruption that prevailed within the police, the triad was able to conduct its activities without being punished. Despite the fact that the triads lost some of its influence with the establishment of the Independent Commission against Corruption, this period enabled evolution and diversification of the triad’s activities. During the 1990s, the 14K triad has become the largest triad in the world. In 1997, the criminal organization killed 14 people in the gang-related attacks. As a result, the organization attracted increased attention of the public and had to decrease its activities. In 2000, the group was involved in Sipadan kidnappings. At the beginning of the 21st century, the triads have expanded its activities. Besides traditional operations related to drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking, the criminal organization has also joined new ventures, including high-tech computer crimes.
The main goal of the 14K triad is the organization of drug trafficking operation on the large scale aimed at generating income. As a result, the majority of drug manufacturing and trafficking activities that take place in Southeast Asia and Pacific are carried by the Chinese criminal organizations. According to the scholars, in most cases, drug trafficking becomes a sphere dominated by small groups who manage to operate competitively and entrepreneurially, rather than by large criminal syndicates. As a result, it becomes difficult for the international community to detect those groups and combat them.
Other goals of the organization include illegal gambling activities, money laundering, murdering, arms and human trafficking. In Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau, the criminal organization established its control over prostitution. At the same time, sex exploitation is not prosecuted by the police and law enforcement, as long as it does not impose a threat to the society. Among the targets of the triad, there are some types of local businesses. The street level activities of the group include drug trafficking, gambling, pornography, prostitution, and fuel smuggling. Triads, including the 14K, are known for using violence to expand their markets, protect their businesses, and enforce potential contracts. At the same time, some of the scholars underline that the purpose of the triad is not simply making a profit. These organizations also pursue social goals, which include adapting to the police control, developing the corporate structures, and protecting illicit entrepreneurs. In this regard, the usage of violence is often restrained to enable stable functioning of the businesses. Finally, in the past, the 14K triad was involved in politics. However, these activities are no longer pursued by the members of criminal group.
Thus, the historical peculiarities of the group’s development significantly contributed to its evolution from the anti-communist organization to the criminal structure. The main aims and activities of the 14K triad include illegal businesses, such as human and drug trafficking, as well as street crimes and violence.
Despite the fact that traditional triads are located in Hong Kong or Taiwan, the groups have a strong influence on the countries with large Chinese communities. For instance, according to the scholars, the worldwide membership of Chinese triads exceeds 100,000 members.
However, the potential of criminal group is bigger than other triads. In particular, it is determined by the fact that the network of the 14K triad is mainly based on the Chinese communities worldwide. As a result, the well-established ethnic Chinese communities in European countries and the United States of America have provided safe positions for Chinese organized crime. As a result, the USA and Europe have become major markets for illegal trafficking of goods and services. Especially strong positions the Chinese criminal groups have achieved in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Unlike the majority of triads operating in Hong Kong, the 14K triad refused from the traditional hierarchical structure and developed a confederation that consists of more than 15 separate groups. The 14K triad is often defined as fragment triad society that does not have a central committee. At the same time, it includes different independent gangs led by their bosses. The group has a number of departments responsible for the operation and conducting the activities. In particular, there are accounting, recruiting, operations, communications, training and welfare departments. The accounting department is responsible for financial activities of the 14K triad. Besides this, the body is directly linked to the money laundering operations. Recruiting department arranges social interactions between members of the organization, hires spies for the 14K triad, and finds new members. Operations’ department coordinates activities related to drug trafficking and human trafficking, mainly sex exploitation. Communications department is aimed at enabling the connection between the members of organization, as well as supporting the relations with other triads and the main lodge. The purpose of training and welfare department is to ensure quality training for the members of the 14K triad. Besides this, the body guarantees that the family members of the jailed members of the organization receive adequate support, such as income or medical insurance.
Thus, despite the fact that the 14K triad does not have a single pyramid but consists of small groups led by the area bosses, the criminal group has succeeded in supporting its financial activities, enabling recruitment operations, and conducting the operations. However, the disorganized structure of the criminal group also makes it one of the most dangerous and violent among other triads, as there is no single control mechanism. As a result, the factions of the 14K triad act according to their interests.
The origins, behaviors, and goals of the Chinese organized crime groups, including the 14K triad, can be explained by several theoretical tools. First, organizations have a connection to the Chinese Nationalistic movement. For instance, the 14K triad was established by a Kuomintang general. After retreating the Kuomintang to Taiwan, many generals moved there. As a result, the original goal of the 14K triad was to unite the existing triads under the Kuomintang agenda and create an opposition to the communist regime. The strong national position of the 14K triad allowed maintaining the relations with the Chinese societies worldwide. As a result, the criminal group organized its networks abroad, including organized crime branches in American Chinatowns. The branches not only conducted criminal activities but enabled the connection with other Chinese communities.
Second, the Chinese organized crime groups, including the 14K triad, significantly benefited from the globalization processes. The interconnection of communication and monetary transactions opened a new perspective for the organization. In particular, it received an easy access to the international markets of goods and services and greatly contributed to the increase of international crime activities. Thus, since the 1960s, the organization started to get involved in the global drug trafficking between the countries of Southern Asia, North and South America, Western Europe, and Australia. The same routes are used to conduct operations related to human trafficking.
Thus, the 14K triad has become not only capable of preserving traditional national connection between its members all over the world, but also successfully adapted to the new realities of the globalized world. As a result, understanding of the 14K triad, its goals and behaviors should include the analysis of peculiarities of Chinese culture.
The success of the 14K triad is mainly determined by the well-established network of the criminal groups, tolerant attitude of the law enforcement in the Southeast Asia, and support of Chinese citizens worldwide. Besides this, the international community fails to combat the organization due to the inability to understand its nature. While the Chinese population remains distrustful in law enforcement agencies, the successful investigation process cannot take place.
At the same time, the steps aimed at mitigating the threat posed by the criminal group are taken on the national and regional levels. In particular, the national level involves the Hong Kong police. For instance, the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau collects the information about the illegal activities of criminal groups and counters the triad leaders. The Independent Commission against Corruption prevents the involvement of triad members into the governmental structures and, thus, reduces the influence of groups on the political matters and eliminates the occurrence of protectionism. Other agencies responsible for combating triad activities include the Narcotic Bureau, Commercial Crime Bureau, Immigration Department, and Customs and Excise Department. In order to fight the triad, the law enforcement adopted a number of initiatives, such as strengthening the intelligence network, enhancing investigation process, conducting the undercover operations, targeting major triad personalities, and exacting the experience with the foreign law enforcements.
On the regional levels, the countries with significant Chinese minorities take actions to reduce the threat of triad activities. For instance, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation participates in international initiatives, such as Project Bridge, the Canadian/United States Cross Border Crime Forum, and the Interagency Working Group on Alien Smuggling (The Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016: n. p.).
Despite the fact that the Hong Kong authorities are not able to eliminate the threat of criminal organizations completely, they succeeded in preventing the expansion of triads’ activities. Besides this, law enforcement has managed to minimize the harm imposed by the triads to society by targeting the groups’ sources of income and penetrating separate criminal branches.