ALARMED by the surge of smuggling nationwide, China's top Customs official said yesterday a nationwide and highly-centralised anti-smuggling command centre would be set up to help stamp out the unlawful activities. The director of the General Administration of Customs, Qian Guanlin, said in Beijing the command centre would co-ordinate anti-smuggling taskforces now battling against smuggling activities by land, sea and air routes. ''[This will] make the crackdown against smuggling activities more effective . . . [by] boosting and improving the channels of internal communication,'' he said. The ruling communist echelon has conceded that it was fighting an uphill battle against smuggling, acknowledging that smuggling activities once notorious in the coastal southeastern provinces has ''spread from the south to the north and east to the west''. In spite of the high-profile crackdown launched last year, Mr Qian said the total value of smuggled goods confiscated by the authorities has reached 2.34 billion yuan (HK$2.07 billion) last year, up by 78 per cent from the previous year. The figure is generally seen as representing only a fraction of the actual amount of goods being smuggled into the mainland because of the weak anti-smuggling efforts. According to the China News Service, Mr Qian said the Customs authorities would also gradually set up a centralised intelligence network with other relevant law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He did not give details. Mr Qian said the duties and power of the Customs authorities should be strengthened. Ports, border and coastal areas that are known for smuggling will be closely guarded, he said. Officials admitted that the rampant growth of smuggling activities had already dealt a serious blow to normal economic activities such as the development of domestic industries. Another problem was that loopholes in cracking down on illegal transshipment of textiles to the United States had worsened the trade dispute between the two sides.