$3 billion deal: how China dominates mining, logging and fishing in the Pacific | Pacific Islands


One country dominates the extraction of resources in the Pacific.

The Guardian’s analysis of trade data shows that China In 2019, more than half of the total tonnage of seafood, wood and minerals exported from the region came from the region, which is worth 3.3 billion U.S. dollars and is described by experts as “a staggering amount.”

As China competes with the influence of the United States and Australia in the Pacific under the impetus of soft power, China has deepened ties with governments in the region as the country is exploiting resources on a large scale.

The weight of these resources that China obtains from the Pacific region exceeds the sum of the next 10 countries. Experts say that China “easily surpasses” other countries, including Australia, in terms of the “severe environmental impact of its extractive industries.”

China often claims for more than 90% of the total tonnage of timber exported from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Photography: Alessio Barrivila

Data analysis reveals the extent of China’s demand for natural resources in the Pacific.

In 2019, China imported 4.8 million tons of timber, 4.8 million tons of mineral products and 72,000 tons of seafood from the Pacific.

The next largest customer of Pacific Mining Resources is Japan, which imported 4.1 million tons of minerals-mainly oil-370,000 tons of wood and 24,000 tons of seafood. Australia imported 600,000 tons of minerals, 5,000 tons of wood and 200 tons of seafood.

Shane McLeod, a researcher at the Lowe Institute, said that China is a major customer of Pacific Resources because it is close to the region and needs to power its economy.

“They just have an appetite. They need natural resources, they are looking for resources, and the Pacific Ocean is geographically close. Another advantage of it is that the supply line is shorter,” he said. “So you can look at Papua New GuineaThis is to provide raw materials directly to China in the region without having to transport them from the other side of the earth. “

From Solomon IslandsCalculated by weight, more than 90% of extractive resources flow to China. And China often claims for more than 90% of Papua New Guinea and Papua New Guinea’s total timber exports. Solomon Islands.

In addition to directly importing resources, data According to data from the American Enterprise Institute, Chinese companies have invested more than US$2 billion in Pacific Mining in the past 20 years.Including controversial investments Pogla, Ram Nickel with Frida Mine in PNG.

The Chinese government has also Sent billions Of official funds flowed into the area, including tens of millions of dollars for new marine and industrial areas.

Compare exports from the Pacific

Whether in terms of weight or dollars, China is the largest customer in the Pacific region. But in terms of value, Australia is close behind-with $2.8 billion in 2019, and China at $3.3 billion. This is because many mined products are heavy but relatively cheap commodities, such as wood.

“In terms of the overall environmental impact of its extractive industries, China will easily surpass other industrial countries operating in the Pacific, including Australia,” said Professor Bill Lawrence of James Cook University in northern Queensland.

“China’s imports of minerals, wood, fossil fuels, food and other products from Pacific island countries are staggering. They are bringing huge challenges to the sustainable development of the region.”

“High Risk Timber Producer”

Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga and Palau all regularly export more than 90% of their timber to China. China’s size does not explain this concentration well, as it accounts for less than 10% of Malaysia’s timber exports, which is a larger producer.Malaysian company also Dominate Sign in to PNG and Solomon Islands.

A logging truck passes through the Vanimo Village in Papua New Guinea to the Vanimo Forest Log Camp, where the logs will be loaded onto a ship for export to China.
A logging truck passes through the Vanimo Village in Papua New Guinea to the Vanimo Forest Log Camp, where the logs will be loaded onto a ship for export to China. Photo: Chicago Tribune/Forum News Service via Getty Images

according to Some estimates, Illegal timber accounts for 70% of the logs exported from the Solomon Islands.

As a very large neighboring country, China is a natural exporter of the Pacific region. But experts said that the huge losses are also related to China’s lack of laws prohibiting the import of illegal timber and weak accountability for environmental or social impacts.

“Both [Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands] Lela Stanley, a policy adviser to the non-governmental organization Global Witness, said: “They suffer from deep-rooted local corruption, which makes it (so far) unable to hold the logging industry and the politicians who profit from it accountable.”

“They are well-known high-risk timber producers, and countries that have stricter laws on illegal timber should avoid them accordingly. At present, China does not have a law that specifically prohibits the import of illegally produced timber.”

The logging activities in this area have had a huge impact on the community.

“Most logs are produced illegally, usually… through infringement of land rights. This is not an abstract concept in PNG, but a concept that has real-life effects on countless people across the country. Most rural communities have at least some needs Directly rely on land and forests. When that forest disappears or is stolen, the impact is serious.”

Although China’s new forest law came into effect in July 2020 and aims to promote sustainable timber trade and protect China’s forests, there are still concerns about the practices of some companies.

“Even if the laws and regulations change, it will take time and effective execution before the company changes its behavior,” Stanley said.

Foreign flag fishing boat

Fishing is a huge source of income for many small Pacific nations. But they have largely failed to obtain the full value of this resource. With the exception of Fiji, Pacific countries have not been able to move upstream in the value chain to process fish into more valuable products.

Take Kiribati as an example, Roger that Up to 75% of government revenue comes from fishing access fees and taxes. However, Kiribati’s direct exports are very low-only 1,000 tons of seafood were exported to China in 2019. At the same time, ships flying foreign flags landed hundreds of thousands of tons of fish in Kiribati waters.

The Chinese fishing boat was detained by Palau authorities on suspicion of illegal fishing of sea cucumbers.
The Chinese fishing boat was detained by Palau authorities on suspicion of illegal fishing of sea cucumbers. Photo: Richard Brooks/Lightning Strike Media Productions

A 2016 survey of ships sailing in the Pacific found that the number of ships flying the Chinese flag far exceeds that of any other country. At that time, China had 290 industrial ships approved to operate in the region, accounting for more than a quarter of the total, more than 240 ships from all Pacific countries combined.

Outside of Papua New Guinea, offshore fishing activities in the Pacific are rarely carried out by vessels flying local flags. On the contrary, local fishing is concentrated in coastal waters. According to Dr. Hugh Govan of the university, there are very valuable species in these waters. South Pacific, Such as sea cucumbers. But Govin said that many coastal fisheries have been overfished or commercially extinct.

The main market for sea cucumbers is southern China, but these are overfished in Papua New Guinea, so that the government Had to stop fishing for several years.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that China is “Responsible fishing country“, “Zero tolerance for ocean-going fishing vessels’ violations of relevant laws and regulations”.

“We… have strengthened international cooperation and have done a lot of fruitful work in combating illegal fishing and promoting the sustainable development of fishery resources with other countries.”

Mining disasters and review

By weight, almost all of the minerals from the Solomon Islands are shipped to China, most of which are aluminum ore.

Minerals exceed 90% of the total export value of PNG, It ships more than 30% of its weight to China. Australia is also deeply involved in PNG’s mining industry-controlling many of the largest mines and importing $2.5 billion in gold in 2019.

Almost 100% of Australia’s gold comes from Fiji, and about 80% comes from PNG. But compared with the minerals exported to China, these are pale and weak in terms of weight.

But Shane McLeod of the Lowe Institute believes that a significant difference between China and Australia’s trading partners lies in how companies are responsible for environmental and social issues.

Papua New Guinea’s large-scale mining operations have a terrible environmental record, including Mining waste treatment at the Ok Tedi Mine of Anglo-Australia BHP Billiton, Panguna in Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto and recently in China Ram Nickel mine. Many foreign companies subsequently withdrew from projects that have been shown to cause damage to the environment.

The Panguna mine triggered a decade-long civil war in the Bougainville Autonomous Region of Papua New Guinea.
The Panguna mine triggered a decade-long civil war in the Bougainville Autonomous Region of Papua New Guinea. Photo: Ilya Gridneff/AAP

“But Chinese companies operating overseas are not subject to domestic market scrutiny like Western companies,” McLeod said.

“Ok Tedi is a good example-environmental disasters are Serious embarrassment in order to [BHP], The censorship of the media was finally passed on to investors. “

“Companies/investors listed in China do face pressure and scrutiny, but I think the way they are presented is opaque and invisible. For example, it is not clear to what extent environmental issues will limit the operation of resource projects.

“I look forward to feedback from MCC [the Metallurgical Corporation of China, the operator of Ramu Nickel] Reporters from political/government channels, not from China, report on the environmental impact of mines there. “

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

last year The PNG government cancelled the mining lease of the Porgera mine owned by some Chinese people, claiming that the country did not get its fair share of major natural resource projects. Chinese joint venture partner Zijin Mining “has indicated the influence of international politics, warning that leasing disputes may damage bilateral relations between the two countries. [PNG] And China”.

The next test of corporate social responsibility may be coming Australia with Chinese people Due to environmental and cultural reasons, PNG companies are facing resistance.

Precautions and methods

  • Guardian Australia’s trade flow data set uses the 2019 version BACI database Created by CEPII. BACI database used in turn Comtrade date, Reported directly by countries.

  • The products in the BACI database use the HS17 version Harmonized System Code.

  • The Guardian classifies commodities as “seafood products”, “wood products” or “oil, metal and mineral products” based on keywords in the harmonized system code. The total trade flow is calculated by grouping the data into categories specified by exporters, importers, and the Guardian.


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