Naw Kham (also romanised as Nuo Kang and Nam Kahn) was an ethnic Shan Burmese criminal gang leader who was convicted by a Chinese court of planning and carrying out the murder of thirteen Chinese mariners on 5 October 2011. The sailors were crewing on two cargo ships — the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8. The ships operated on the Mekong River in the ‘Golden Triangle’, where criminal gangs often demand protection money from boats and sometimes hijack them to transport illegal goods such as drugs. The mass murder caused great public outrage in China after photos of dead Chinese sailors went viral on the Internet.
After the sailors’ bodies were found, the Chinese authorities quickly suspended all Chinese shipping on the Mekong and requested co-operation from Thailand, Laos and Burma in solving the crime. In December 2012, the four countries signed a security agreement to administer joint patrols on the Mekong. They launched a man-hunt, under Chinese direction, involving members of an elite Thai anti-narcotics force, to capture suspects including Naw Kham and members of his gang. Laotian security forces apprehended Naw Kham in late April 2012 in Bokeo province. He was extradited to China to stand trial. The court sentenced him and two other members of his gang to death in November 2012; they were executed by lethal injection on 1 March 2013. The graphic televised report of the execution caused considerable comment both in China and internationally.
Some observers viewed the Chinese government’s actions as indicative of China’s growing role in regional security, or what the New York Times called ‘cross-border clout’.