CHINA’s BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE will Pose Serious Threat to South-East Asian Wildlife: Conservationists Warn!

THIS is what the World should be concerned about … the big picture!

In Beijing President Xi stood on the Tiananmen Rostrum where Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China on October 1 1949 and extolled the ‘Chinese Dream’ of national rejuvenation …

‘There is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation.’ Xi said wearing a Mao suit as he stood alongside party leaders in Tiananmen Square.

‘No force that can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging ahead.’ ...


Ambassador Cheng ­Jingye who says Australia should ­remember it depends on China for its economic success ….

“What China aims (for) is not domination of the world; we are aiming for a better life for our own people,” he said. “Yes, we are going to grow richer and stronger. But we have no intention to seek ­hegemony, we have no intention to seek expansion, no intention to seek spheres of influence.”


CHINA’s BELT AND ROAD Initiative will pose serious threat to South-East Asian wildlife, conservationists warn

By South-East Asia correspondent Kathryn Diss in Ta Phraya National Park

5 OCTOBER 2019

Two Indo-Chinese tigers

PHOTO: Conservationists say China’s expansion could wipe out the Indochinese tiger. (ABC News: Fabrizio Bensch )

RELATED STORY: Why China’s ‘project of the century’ is making Australia and the US worried

RELATED STORY: What it means when countries sign onto China’s Belt and Road

RELATED STORY: A tiger trapped under a shop is a sign of a larger crisis

Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar project to connect China with Europe and Africa is slated to cut through large swathes of forest and run close to dozens of biodiversity hotspots, sparking fears of habitat destruction and wildlife extinction.

Key points:

  • China is carrying out or planning construction projects in more than 60 countries
  • Conservationists say the Belt and Road Initiative could endanger wildlife
  • Thai rangers say endangered tigers will be more vulnerable to poachers

The initiative, which promises to be the largest in human history, involves more than 7,000 projects spanning 72 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.

Hundreds of roads and railways will be built to facilitate trade and bind China’s economy to two-thirds of the world’s population.

But research has revealed 60 per cent of the biodiversity across the three continents could be damaged, with impacts ranging from forest fragmentation to outright destruction.

Alice Hughes from the Chinese Academy of Sciences conducted the first comprehensive study of the development’s environmental impacts, mapping where the planned projects would go and how they overlap with key biodiversity hotspots.

“Wherever you go in this region, there are potential issues for wildlife both by direct exploitation, but also the increased probability of traffic accidents or moving into areas they shouldn’t really be going in,” she said.

A map showing some countries which have backed China's Belt and Road Initiative.

PHOTO: Dozens of countries and international organisations have signed cooperation agreements with China for the Belt and Road Initiative. (ABC News: Jarrod Fankhauser)

Of particular concern are hotspots in South-East Asia, which is already home to several threatened and endangered species not found anywhere else in the world.

There are also fears for Northern and Central Asia, which boast ecosystems largely untouched by humans.

“There are going to be routes being built in areas which have had very few routes in the past,” Dr Hughes said.

Many species have been migrating for literally thousands of years using the same route. If suddenly you put a road through the middle of it, it can’t be used anymore.”

‘Where the road goes, people will follow’

Aside from direct impacts like logging to make way for roads and railway lines, any additional development brings more people and helps facilitate illegal trades like poaching.

A group of Thai men in paramilitary gear stand in a line

PHOTO: The rangers risk their lives trying to protect endangered animals in the national park from poachers. (ABC News: Kathryn Diss )

Chief Kunlabon Ponlawa manages a group of rangers who patrol the jungle in Thailand’s east, protecting the forest and its animals from local poachers, but also Cambodian traffickers breaching the border.

Smugglers come looking for rare and endangered species like the Indochinese tiger but also rosewood, a sought-after tree which sells for tens of thousands of dollars in China.

The forest already has two major highways dissecting it and they are slated to hook into the Belt and Road Initiative.

“Where the road goes, people will follow,” Kunlabon Ponlawa said.

“When there is more development, there is more threat to wildlife, especially from people who want to commit a crime. It makes it easier for poachers to transport in and out.”

His team of rangers patrol the jungle in total silence, carrying HK33 assault rifles and other guns to protect themselves against poachers, who could be armed with anything from homemade weapons to AK47s.

Thai men in paramilitary gear crouch on the ground inspecting a map

PHOTO: The rangers look for signs that poachers have been in parts of the national park where endangered animals roam. (ABC News: Kathryn Diss )

They look for signs that people have been there — food tins, bottles, cigarette butts or footprints.

Dozens of rangers have lost their lives in Thailand in recent years, and they fear the Belt and Road Initiative will make their work even more dangerous.

Tigers in peril as China eyes South-East Asia

Tim Redford from the Freeland Foundation helps train the rangers and has fought to save Thailand’s wildlife and its dwindling tiger population for more than 30 years.

A man stands on a hill overlooking Thai jungle

PHOTO: Conservationist Tim Redford says tigers need large areas to roam, and the Belt and Road Initiative will fragment their habitat. (ABC News: Kathryn Diss )

“Every single piece of forest is being fragmented, and that common extinction problem is happening everywhere,” he said.

“With the introduction of the Belt and Road Initiative, I can only see this increasing even more.”

There are fewer than 200 Indochinese tigers left in the wild in Thailand, which is home to some of the last remaining breeding grounds of the carnivore in South-East Asia.

The species is now extinct in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“Large landscapes are essential if we want to keep the tigers. The more they’re fragmented, the higher the chance of that population being lost,” Mr Redford said.

“Previously they could wander across the whole landscape and they could move from central Thailand to the Cambodian border and even across into Cambodia, but now this migration is almost impossible,” he said.

A huge pile of ivory tusks confiscated from poachers in Thailand

PHOTO: Conservationists fear the Belt and Road Initiative will embolden poachers in Thai and Cambodian jungles. (Reuters: Chaiwat Subprasom)

In recent years the rangers have been learning to collect and handle evidence to a standard required to stand up in court.

In 2018, a park ranger was hailed a hero when he arrested a prominent construction mogul caught in the forest eating soup made from a freshly killed rare black leopard.

The mogul could face 28 years’ jail if convicted of all the charges against him.