7th August, 2008
The environmental disaster that put paid to China's intensive logging spawned an illegal trade in timber that risks global erosion. In their rush to feed the dragon, loggers on both sides of the law can't see the trees for the wood, says Steve Kemper
Ten years ago, Suifenhe and Manzhouli were small, little known towns on China's remote northern border with Russia. They are now booming centres of chaotic and often illegal commerce.
Their growth has been fuelled by timber. The vast forests of the Russian Far East - after Amazonia the world's second-largest carbon sink - are draining through border towns such as these at an alarming rate, often with help from the Russian mafia, Chinese criminal gangs and corrupt officials on both sides of the border.
The raw logs get sawn into boards before being transported further along the timber chain in China, where thousands of factories churn out wood products that end up in homes in the United States, Europe and Japan.
Suifenhe and Manzhouli are still unknown to most Westerners, but they are no longer inconsequential. Nor are they uncommon. Huge quantities of wood, much of it illegally cut, reach China every day from timber depots in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Mekong Delta, central Africa and Amazonia. These places are feeding China's voracious appetite for wood, which is continuously stoked in turn by global demand for inexpensive furniture, flooring and other wood products. This cut-and-consume cycle is...
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