The complex story of murder and mayhem on the Mekong River in October last year was outlined in my 9 November 2011 post. In a brutal attack on two Chinese commercial vessels close to the tri-border region of Burma, Laos and Thailand, thirteen Chinese nationals were killed.

Although suspicion immediately focused on notorious Burmese drug runner Naw Kham and his associates, there were also claims that Thai military personnel were involved in the attack. In a firm assertion of its right to protect its citizens, Chinese authorities instituted armed patrols along the Mekong, including beyond its own territory after persuading its immediate Mekong neighbours to participate in this effort. To all intents and purposes, however, the patrols were essentially Chinese with nominal Burmese, Lao and Thai participation.

Now, nearly a year later, Naw Kham and five associates have been brought to trial in Kunming having been extradited either from Burma or Laos (there are conflicting reports on this issue). Naw Kham has pleaded guilty and appealed for clemency. Sentencing has not yet occurred.

While the court proceedings in Kunming bring one aspect of this case to a close, other issues remain unresolved, not least in relation to the Thai soldiers accused of involvement in the attack, who remain in custody.

Probably more interesting is the extent to which the actions of the Chinese authorities following the attack have provided a clear indication of its readiness to seize the opportunity to project its influence beyond its borders, including through judicial action. Commercial trade between southern Yunnan and northern Thailand is dominated by Chinese cargo boats and Chinese actions make clear that it will protect its citizens and their vessels.

Photo by Flickr user Chrissam42.