Sino Timber Demand

By Bryan • china • 28 Feb 2006

I pulled this off the People’s Daily newsfeed.


It’s false to say that China fells trees in other countries while protecting its own, said Cao Qingyao, spokesperson of China’s State Forestry Administration at a press conference Monday.

There were reporters asking about a rumor that after China’s ban on exploitation of natural forests in large areas, China has imported great amounts of timber, imposing threat on the virgin forests in Myanmar, Southeast Asia, Far East and Russia. Cao said the rumor is not right.

Cao said it’s a common responsibility of the world’s countries to protect and develop forest resources but not the responsibility of a single country or region. The Chinese government has consistently performed its internationally-shared responsibilities, opposed to and firmly cracked down on illegal deforestation and illegal imports. China enforces rigid control over imports.

I found it to be an incredibly arrogant and irresponsible statement. I read the passage as essentially stating that “We are concerned over the situation and believe that it is everyone’s responsibility, just not ours”. It’s a variation of the NIMBY phenomenon, ALA-NIMBY (As Long As its Not In My Backyard).

Commercial forestry was banned in China in late 90’s in a bid to reduce deforestation, erosion and desertification. Despite construction materials largely being concrete/steel in nature, 1.3 billion people have a strong appetite for forest based products. The Chinese government routinely claims that domestic production fills the majority of demand, while just about every other international forestry organization claims the polar opposite. I’m inclined to believe the latter, not only because of the obvious mistrust of the Chinese government, but largely because of my own travels. I do believe that forest cover has increased dramatically over the past thirty or so years, this is evident in the extensive reforestation projects which can be observed through out the country (the differences between a natural growing forest and a reforested are fairly obvious) and the government has recently released a new 5 year Forest Plan, outlining their goal of attaining 20% forest cover by 2011. Forests are present everywhere. The weakness of the government’s assertation that mainland reserves are adequate for domestic production lies in the absence of any data regarding timber volumes. The forests I’ve observed, while vast and healthy, are populated by very tiny tree species and lack any considerable volume (from Jiangsu to Xinjiang to Hunan to Guizhou, I never saw a diameter which exceeded that of a medium sized (read 60-80 years old) Lodgepole pine. From this I believe that it is impossible for China to supply domestic demand with these resources. It can’t be done without extensive imports, and given the pace of development in this country; it is almost ludicrous to believe that local plantations will offset demand significantly.

I’ll give credit to the ability of the central government to stem desertification and halt deforestation in their country. Few, if any developing countries have done this, and it is quite an accomplishment, especially when considering the vast size of this country and the ecological diversity. Yet in doing so, the problem has just been water bedded over to other developing nations such as Africa, Borneo, Russia and Myanmar. Myanmar is an especially interesting case as it is an especially poor nation which has recently been providing Chinese companies with logging (and I use the term logging here as I suspect that there is little actual forestry occurring) rights for their northern forests in exchange for a buddy on the Security Council. Echo’s of Sudan?

From Asia Times Online:

An environmental disaster unfolding along the border that military-ruled Myanmar shares with China has all the elements of hypocrisy written large. In this case, the guilty party is China.

Yangon’s junta finds itself trapped into silence due to the political capital Beijing has spent to protect the regime from increasing charges of oppression and human-rights violations leveled against Yangon by the international community.

The price of that silence has meant an army of Chinese loggers moving into Myanmar’s northern Kachin state to strip that rugged mountainous area of its timber-rich forests.

“In 2004, more than one million cubic meters of timber, about 95% of Myanmar’s total timber exports to China, were illegally exported from northern Myanmar to [China’s southern] Yunnan province,” states Global Witness (GW), a non-governmental organization.

Half of Myanmar’s timber exports to China are thought to come from natural forests, with the other half originating from plantations.

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