Burma’s Missing Timber Millions: Destination China

A new report, launched today by Global Witness at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok , “A Choice for China – Ending the destruction of Burma’s northern frontier forests” , details shocking new evidence of the massive illicit plunder of Burma’s forests by Chinese logging companies. Much of the logging takes place in forests that form part of an area said to be “very possibly the most bio-diverse, rich, temperate area on earth.”

In 2004, more than 1 million cubic meters of timber, about 95% of Burma’s total timber exports to China were illegally exported from northern Burma to Yunnan Province. This trade, amounting to a $250 million loss for the Burmese people, every year, takes place with the full knowledge of the Burmese regime, the government in Beijing and the rest of the international community. Chinese companies, local Chinese authorities, regional Tatmadaw and ethnic ceasefire groups are all directly involved.

“On average, one log truck, carrying about 15 tonnes of timber, logged illegally in Burma, crosses an official Chinese checkpoint every seven minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; yet they do nothing.” Said Jon Buckrell of Global Witness.

In September 2001 the government of the People’s Republic of China made a commitment to strengthen bilateral collaboration to address violations of forest law and forest crime, including illegal logging and associated illegal trade. However, since then, illegal imports of timber across the Burma-China border have actually increased by 60%.

“A few Chinese businessmen, backed by the authorities in Yunnan Province, are completely undermining Chinese government initiatives to combat illegal logging. Not only are the activities of these loggers jeopardising the prospect of sustainable development in northern Burma they are also breaking Chinese law.” Said Buckrell.

In September 2004 EU member states called for the European Commission to produce “…specific proposals to address the issue of Burmese illegal logging…” Later, in October, the European Council expressed support for the development of programmes to address, “the problem of non-sustainable, excessive logging” that resulted in deforestation in Burma. To date, the EU has done next to nothing.

“Like China, the EU has so far failed the Burmese people. How many more livelihoods will be destroyed before the Commission and EU member states get their act together?” Asked Buckrell.

It is essential that the Chinese government stops timber imports across the Burma-China border, with immediate effect, and until such time sufficient safeguards are in place that can guarantee legality of the timber supply. The Chinese authorities should also take action against companies and officials involved in the illegal trade.

Global Witness is calling for the establishment of a working group to facilitate measures to combat illegal logging, to ensure equitable, transparent and sustainable forest management, and to promote long-term development in northern Burma.

“It is vitally important that all stakeholders work together to end the rampant destruction of Burma’s forests and to ensure that the necessary aid and long-term investment reach this impoverished region.” Said Jon Buckrell.

Global Witness can be reached in Asia on +44 78 71 7 999 03 or +66 40 81 46 56
Alternatively contact Global Witness, London on +44 207 561 6386


[1] Global Witness is a British-based non-governmental organisation, which focuses on the link between conflict, corruption and natural resource exploitation. Please see www.globalwitness.org for further details.
[2] The launch of the report will take place at an open meeting at the FCCT in Bangkok 18 October, 10.30 am. Global Witness staff is also available for comments in London and Beijing.
24 October, 10.00 am the findings of the report will also be presented at the Italian Cultural Centre in Beijing, arranged by the FCC in Beijing.
Channel 4 news will broadcast a short documentary on the situation in northern Burma during their 7 o’clock news programme on 18 October.
[3] The report can be downloaded from www.globalwitness.org (from 18 October).
[4] Source: California Academy of Sciences.
[5] The Burmese military.
[6] See ‘Appendix III in “A Choice for China”: East Asia Forest Law and Governance Ministerial Declaration.
[7] See Section 7.4 in “A Choice for China”: The illegal nature of the Burma-China timber trade (Chinese Law).
[8] Source: Commission, External Relations, “Minister Bernard Bot presents outcome of discussions on Burma”; 3 September 2004
[9] Source: EU Commission, External Relations, “Council Common Position 2004/730/CFSP”: October 2004
[10] Including; the State Peace and Development Council, ceasefire groups, UN agencies, the Chinese government and others.

Additional comments:
By 24 October 2005, Burmese democracy leader and Nobel Peace Price winner, Aung San Suu Kyi will have spent a total of ten years under house arrest.
The US is pressing for Burma to be placed on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council during October 2005.