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2011年9月24日 星期六

Chinese Agribusiness Investment in Mekong Countries: Are Overseas Economic Expansion Strategies Doing Local Communities Good? (part 3)


The Cambodia’s case

China has become the biggest investor of Cambodia since 2005. Due to its thirst for the natural resources and the unstable global supplies it has, the investment in Cambodia has already been the best means of grabbing the supply sources to conform its demands. Agricultural produce, especially rubber and cassava, and timber are two of the priorities.

Cambodia has been suffering from land disputes for long. The conflicts can be worse under the Chinese investment, whose encroachment case in Mondulkiri particularly pushed the protesting local villagers to jail and prevented them from speaking out.

This notorious case is made by the timber and pulp joint venture company Pheapimex-Wuzhishan. Pheapimex is an infamous Cambodian pulp company which is widely known of its intimate relationship with Cambodian government. The Chinese timber company Wuzhisan, originated from Hannan, initiated the joint venture with Pheapimex in Cambodia, and its business has caused a big controversy. The company occupied the land the north eastern Mondulki province for pine tree plantation, and the total area was 20-fold more than the local concession regulation. The encroachment it got was 200,000 ha, with 99-year contract and 10,000 ha for immediate trial fields.

In 2005, Council of ministers also issued a notification ordering a suspension of Wuzhishan’s activities and initiated field research which assessed the plantation including the prepared land to 16,500 ha. A government committee decided the company had to withdraw from this concession.[1]Nevertheless, Wuzhshan continued, even overused the pesticide on farms and destroyed the local people’s ancestors’ burial.

The revolt occurred in Jan. 2007, but Cambodia government was strongly supporting Chinese stance, and forced the villagers to sign the concession contracts with 86,896 ha. To this day, Wuzhshan has obtained 315,000 ha land under Pheapimex’s assistance. Most of the lands are located in Pursat and Kampong Chhnang Province. More than 100,000 local residents have been suffering from displacement.

Environmental Concerns over Opium Replacement and Overseas Investment

There is evidence of illegal logging occurring in order to clear land for the plantations.[2] Also, the Chinese investors’ vast plantation can negatively affect the watershed areas and biodiversity.

In mid-2007, China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) developed Draft Guidelines for Sustainable Silviculture Practices Overseas in collaboration with Global Environmental Institute (GEI), the University of International Business and Economics, and Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning. However, the Opium Replacement based plantation development in northern Laos or Burma does not fall within the executive boundaries of the State Forestry Administration. Composed of a number of key agencies such as Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Agriculture, the Opium Replacement Working Group at national level (and in subsequent local incarnations) does not include any forestry authorities.[3]

GEI proposed the Guidelines for Environmental Practices in Foreign Investment Activities of Chinese Enterprises in 2010, requiring compliance with Chinese and host country laws, greater transparency, community consultations and grievance mechanisms. The extent of implementation still remains to be observed.

Chinese Agribusiness Overseas Expansion: Soft Power as Diplomatic Strategy, but under International Criticism

The soft power strategy has been highly promoted by China recently as a new diplomacy, and this strategy includes the increase of foreign aid and economic cooperation, such as what Going Out is doing in the Mekong region. Apparently, Chinese agribusiness investment is claimed by the Mekong countries as a good way of developing the related techniques and yields, and bringing the business to grow the domestic economy. However, the aforementioned three Mekong countries, Laos, Burma and Cambodia are all facing with the reliance on Chinese investors which does not necessarily help with the host countries’ economic growth, and sometimes the local communities might not be able to benefit from it and can be more marginalised. While finding that local revolts occur because of their investment, the Chinese investors frequently ignore the local voices and approach to their measures without human rights perspectives. The soft power is already under international criticism.

Unfortunately, the Chinese demands for agricultural and timber resources are augmenting, and the trend of land need and encroachment will not be paused immediately.



[1] Environment Forum Core Team/NGO Forum on Cambodia, 2005

[2] Alternative Development or Business as Usual? China’s Opium Substitution Policy in Burma and Laos, Transnational Institute, 2010

[3] Rubber Investments and Investments and Market Linkages in Lao PDR: Approaches for Sustainability, Charlotte Hick et. al., Feb. 2009

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