CHENGDU, China — While China clamps down on logging within its borders, illegal Chinese loggers are felling the world’s forests with abandon for the sake of teak floors and fancy chairs.
In late July, 153 Chinese nationals were sentenced to life in prison for illegal logging in Myanmar’s northernmost Kachin state, a region rife with coveted 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 the gesture, while benevolent toward the loggers, will do nothing to stop the ongoing of ravishment of the region by Chinese companies who’ve been plundering Myanmar for over a decade, mostly illegally.
Thousands of precious teak trees, protected by Myanmar’s 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 Chinese elites, hongmu is now lusted after by China’s nouveau riche, with individual pieces fetching one million dollars or more.
Myanmar isn’t China’s only victim either. Indonesia, which has the world’s third highest carbon emissions rate (owing to deforestation), placed a moratorium on logging four years ago. Since then, forests have continued to be chopped and in 2013 half the world’s illegal timber came from Indonesia and ended up in China.