Row over Chinese loggers reflects poor understanding of Myanmar

The Chinese media’s misinterpretation of Chinese citizens being sentenced to 10 years or more for illegal logging in Myanmar reflects poor understanding of the Southeast Asian nation’s policies, according to Guangzhou’s South Reviews.

Myanmar president Thein Sein pardoned 6,966 prisoners on July 30, including 155 Chinese nationals who were sentenced on July 22 to between 10 and 35 years for illegal logging, the magazine said.

The loggers were arrested in January in Kachin State, which borders southwestern China’s Yunnan province.

In several Chinese media reports, the heavy sentences have been linked to the complex military and diplomatic ties between the two countries but the magazine said such an assessment reflects a poor understanding of Myanmar’s policies. The administration in Myanmar introduced a policy in 2011 to protect the country’s forests, in light of the deteriorating environment and shrinking forests, the magazine said.

The country’s forest coverage dropped from 61% in 1975 to 49% in 2010, with some officials putting the figure as low as 24%, according to the magazine.

After the civilian administration took over from the military junta in 2011, it renamed the forestry ministry the ministry of environmental protection and forestry and cut the annual logging quota for teak from 500,000 cubic meters to 100,000 cubic meters, and for hard wood and others types of timber from 2 million cubic meters to 900,000 cubic meters.

Central government permission is required for any mining or logging in Myanmar, so the Chinese loggers’ claim that they had obtained approval from local governments and militias carries no weight in court, the magazine said.

The existence of Myanmar rebel militia groups, one of which controls a large part of Kachin, is one of the reasons why the government is failing to protect the forests, since these groups rely on the sale of logging and mining rights for funding, according to the magazine.

The fact that more than 700 of the 2,000 plus officials charged with corruption since March 2011 have been linked to illegal logging shows that there are close ties between illegal loggers and government officials, the magazine said.

The Myanmar government is also facing a shortage of forest rangers and a flood of loggers tempted by the lucrative illegal business, the magazine added.

This has led to the government’s increased confiscation of illegally obtained lumber, from 30,000 tons in the fiscal year 2011-2012 to 70,000 tons in April alone this year, government data suggested.

The magazine also highlighted some of the challenges faced by Chinese companies’ involved in projects in Myanmar in recent years, despite long-term ties between the two countries.

The China-backed Myitsone Dam and hydro project in Kachin stalled because of opposition to it by local residents and a similar situation has been reported at a copper mine in Mandalay, the magazine said.

These problems are caused by a lack of understanding among Chinese companies and academics about Myanmar as a country undergoing reforms, the magazine said.

The magazine urged Chinese companies to help improve ties with Myanmar by displaying good will and pushing for local development in the Southeast Asian country, which has a key role in Beijing’s Silk Road initiative.

Source: Want China times

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