Hong Kong's security chief yesterday returned from a week-long visit to Australia and New Zealand amid growing concern in the two countries about the role of southern China in the illegal drugs trade.
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok met ministers in Canberra and Wellington, with the burgeoning methamphetamine business flowing out of Guangdong through Hong Kong thought to have been high on the agenda.
Speaking after a meeting on Tuesday, New Zealand Police Minister Anne Tolley said they discussed drug crime and efforts to crack down on the meth, or Ice, trade.
"It is still a serious problem, involving mainly drug precursors, but we have had significant success recently in recovering drugs before they hit the market and identifying the criminals behind it," Tolley said.
"Agencies from both China and Hong Kong played an important role in the biggest-ever haul at the end of last year and I am confident that our close working relationship will continue to deliver great results."
She was referring to a NZ$190 million (HK$1.3 billion) seizure of drugs, homes, cars and other assets in December after an 18month operation.
Described by police as "the biggest haul of its kind," more than 330kg of a drug called Contac NT was seized. The drug is legal as a cold medicine in mainland China but is a banned Class B drug in New Zealand. Its main ingredient is pseudoephedrine, which is used to cook meth.
The Security Bureau said Lai told Tolley Hong Kong had "always attached great importance to tackling the drug problem".
Guangdong is considered a meth-producing powerhouse, with an abundance of precursor materials - such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine - that criminal gangs divert from the legal chemical industry into the black market. Tolley said in April that an anti-drugs officer would be attached to the country's consulate in Guangzhou to "help identify criminals who are responsible for illicit drug or precursor chemical imports to New Zealand".
A Security Bureau spokesman played down the city's role in the trade, saying: "There is no evidence that Hong Kong is a major narcotics production centre nor a significant illicit drug trans-shipment point."
A large proportion of methamphetamine found in New Zealand was domestically manufactured, the spokesman said, citing figures from 2012, when only 0.06kg of meth from Hong Kong was seized there.
However, more than 100 times that quantity was seized in less than a week earlier this year.
In March, a 3.3kg consignment of meth from Hong Kong worth HK$22 million was intercepted by the New Zealand authorities, who found the drug hidden inside skincare and shampoo products. Days earlier, 3.15kg of meth was seized at Hong Kong airport from two passengers about to depart for New Zealand.
The city's customs department signalled its intent to tackle the issue in January by announcing plans to set up a dedicated team to liaise with mainland and overseas enforcement agencies.
Transnational "Asian" criminal groups were key players in the illicit import of meth and its precursor chemicals to New Zealand, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said last year. "The main embarkation points for precursor chemicals trafficked to New Zealand continued to be mainland China … followed by Hong Kong," the report read.