YUNNAN Government officials yesterday defended the province's border trade with Burma and other Asian countries, saying the booming business of the land-locked province must not be sacrificed in the name of prevention of drug trafficking and AIDS. Admitting that the province has witnessed a significant rise of drug addicts and AIDS victims in recent years, Mr Liu Jing, Director of Foreign Trade, said Yunnan must continue to cultivate border trade with its neighbours. However, Mr Liu said border trade should not compromise efforts to crack down on drug trafficking. ''The development of border trade has its pros and cons. I believe it [border trade] has more virtues than defects. The question is how to find a balance,'' he added. The dramatic increase of border business, Mr Liu said, was partly due to the south China tour made by paramount leader Mr Deng Xiaoping early last year. According to Mr Liu, Yunnan province last year registered a 43 per cent increase in border commerce mainly with countries such as Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and the total volume soared to more than 2.2 billion yuan (HK$2.94 billion). Mr Liu indirectly blamed foreign drug dealers for taking advantage of ignorant Chinese peasants in using them to smuggle drugs to the international market. ''First I must stress that there is no drug plantation in Yunnan. They [the drugs] all come from other countries. Second, we are committed to cracking down on cross-border drug trafficking,'' he said. ''And if any one of you takes a look at contemporary Chinese history, then you will see that China has almost become a colony of foreign powers because of drugs,'' said Mr Liu. ''No one should have any doubt that we have learned a painful lesson,'' he added. Mr Huang Xinhua, deputy director of the provincial Foreign Affairs Office, admitted that drug smuggling had become rampant in cities such as Ruili on the Sino-Burma border and the Pingyuan area between China and Vietnam. According to Mr Huang, while the province's official records showed that only six million to seven million travellers crossed the borders last year, the real flow of traffic could be as high as 10 million. ''Some of the records were just a simple signature and most of these travellers didn't need any passports, so the figure could be much higher,'' he said. He said due to widespread drug addiction in Ruili, significant numbers of the local population were also AIDS victims. He said the AIDS problem was serious in Ruili partly due to the sharing of needles among drug addicts, but claimed the problem was largely confined to rural areas. In spite of recent reports that coastal cities such as Guangzhou had imposed extra medical checks on foreign travellers for AIDS, Mr Huang said he was not aware of such practices in Yunnan.