The number of drug addicts in China may now number 12 million - 20 times more than previously feared. Chinese officials gave the estimate to visiting Russian Procurator-General Rigory Skuratov, whose visit marks the first such high-level contact in 35 years. He fears Chinese criminal gangs are flooding the Russian Far East with 'ice', an ephedrine-based drug. Russian sources said they were told that northeast China had become an important production base, with 200,000 addicts in Liaoning province alone. They added that the two countries were discussing setting up a joint taskforce to fight the growing trade. Last year Chinese police seized a tonne of 'ice' destined for Russia - just a fraction of the amounts believed to be smuggled out of China, one of the largest producers of ephedrine. Yesterday, President of the Supreme People's Court, Ren Jianxin , threatened traffickers with the maximum penalties. 'We once suffered from the scourge of drugs. We must never allow it to happen again.' A nationwide campaign to crack down on 'ice-related' crimes was announced earlier this week by Tao Siju , the Minister of Public Security. He said no new processing factories would be allowed and only state-designated factories could buy ephedra plants. The Ministry of Health would also tighten control over the purchase of ephedrine, widely used in Chinese traditional medicine.