While China clamps down on logging within its borders, illegal Chinese loggers are merrily felling the world’s forests for the sake of teak floors and fancy chairs, says a report on ‘global post’.
In late July, 153 Chinese nationals were handed life sentences for illegal logging in Burma’s northernmost Kachin state, a region abundant with teak, padauk, beechwood, ebony and rosewood species. Last week Burmese authorities granted their release in a gesture of goodwill toward China, which is Myanmar’s largest trading partner. But this will not to stop the ongoing of plunder of the region (mostly illegal) by Chinese companies who’ve been at it over a decade.
Thousands of precious teak trees, protected by Burmese Forest Law, as well as other species protected by a timber export ban passed in 2014, are shipped every year to eastern China to be transformed into teak floors for luxury buildings or “hongmu” (“redwood”) chairs, tables and chests. Once limited to the Chinese elites, “hongmu” is now lusted after by China’s new rich, with individual pieces fetching $1 million or more. A chair costing over a million dollars is no chair, it’s a throne!
Burma isn’t China’s only victim. Indonesia, which has the world’s third highest carbon emissions rate (owing to deforestation), placed a suspension on logging four years ago. Even so, forests have continued to fall and in 2013 half the world’s illegal timber came from Indonesia and ended up in China.
Cambodia suffers the world’s third highest deforestation rate and 85 percent of its timber exports go to — you guessed it — China.
Plagued by deforestation, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s sixth most forested country by area, created a logging permit system to combat it, but industrial-scale logging continues; 90 percent of its logging is illegal and last year 65 percent of its timber exports went to China.
China also became Brazil’s leading market for wood in 2012, it consumes 80-90 percent of Papua New Guinea’s timber, over 90 percent of Mozambique’s, and in Equatorial Guinea, its log purchases have consistently exceeded the legal limit.
Why this greed for timber? Chinese demand for wood increased 300 percent from 2000 to 2011, in part due to growth in China’s construction industry and a 474 percent increase in per capita GDP, allowing more Chinese hotels, deluxe apartments and upper-class consumers to quench their thirst for rare furniture products.
As Bob Flynn, international forests director at the timber consultancy RISI, says in a recent book about China’s environmental impact, “Chinese really don’t care where their wood comes from, as long as it’s cheap. If you’re talking about illegal logs from Indonesia or cutting down the last tree in the Solomon Islands, they apparently have no issues with that.”
While nations like the United States and Australia have passed laws banning the import of illegal wood, China refuses to do so, believing the cost would be too high. At the same time, China has passed bans on commercial logging within its borders: in Heilongjiang province in 2014 and in Inner Mongolia and Jilin last April. In fact, Beijing wants to cut commercial logging of state forests by 20 percent before 2020.
This discrepancy has brought charges of hypocrisy. Faith Doherty, a team leader with the British NGO Environmental Investigation Agency, has described China’s behavior as “effectively exporting deforestation around the world.”
What is the answer to this problem? Alison Hoare, a senior environmental researcher at British think tank Chatham House, wrote last month that Beijing should take a leadership role by raising this issue at ASEAN and G20 summits. But China isn’t likely to begin awareness-raising campaigns.
Or as one Shanghai flooring company representative said, “we don’t log or smuggle any teak out of Burma. As for how the suppliers get teak, I don’t really care.”
So what will it take for Chinese to care about the forests of Mozambique? Hoare of Chatham House believes that economic self-preservation may be the answer. If the world starts questioning its illegal imports that feed the timber processing industry, and China realises that the world will not buy wooden items unless China can guarantee they come from legal sources, then China will ensure that the materials which are being imported to supply the industry are legal.
“China has been exploring ways to tackle the trade in illegal timber,” she added, citing work to create a verification system for legal wood.“However, this is only just beginning to be implemented by industry and it remains a voluntary measure.”