China and ASEAN countries both benefit from abundant forest resources, though forests in China and Southeast Asia differ in many ways – which presents an excellent opportunity for cooperation.
The China-ASEAN Forestry Cooperation Forum, which was held during the 13th China-ASEAN Expo and the 13th China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Nanning, capital of southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, gave a glimpse into the nature of forestry cooperation that exists between China and ASEAN countries. China has signed bilateral memorandums of understanding on forestry cooperation with Indonesia, Vietnam and Brunei, and has also developed economic forestry technologies that have benefited a number of countries across the region. Moreover, by supporting the Asia-Pacific Network for Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation, China has set up demonstration projects including forest rehabilitation and sustainable business models.
Making Joint Efforts
China-ASEAN forestry trade volume in 2015 reached US$31.8 billion and China’s import volume reached US$23 billion, according to official Chinese statistics. China has become a vital trading partner of ASEAN in terms of forestry-related products. Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar are particularly important partners of China in the field of forestry cooperation. Forestry is playing a key role in societal development across the region, as well as ensuring the “green” welfare of people across Asia, said Zhang Jianlong, director of China’s State Forestry Administration. Zhang said that along with the establishment of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the Paris Agreement on sustainable development, China and ASEAN could make joint development efforts in the following ways.
By supporting the Asia-Pacific Network for Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation, China has set up demonstration projects including forest rehabilitation and sustainable business models.
First, China and ASEAN could establish long-term mechanisms in forestry cooperation in order to deepen regional cooperation. Such mechanisms could include conducting high level exchanges.
Second, China and ASEAN could promote the protection of forest resources and enhance its usage efficiency. The two sides could establish more specific systems for forest protection, including focusing on diversification of species, establishing trans-boundary reserves, gathering tree species data and building channels for information exchange on forest disasters, all of which would help forests cope with the challenges of climate change.
Third, China and ASEAN should implement more innovative efforts in forestry cooperation. They should establish a platform of cooperation and promote technological communication and personnel exchange, which will in turn boost innovation. They also need to enhance coordination with industries operating in areas near forests.
Agus Justianto, senior counselor to Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry, said that now is a crucial time for the region to focus on forest protection, and cooperation at all levels needs to be enhanced. Reducing carbon emissions is vital, and countries should pay more attention to the protection of rare trees. To this end, technology can play a role, as methods such as satellite tracking can help researchers identify which areas are most in need of protection.
In addition, experts say that some pilot programs could be established in border regions, particularly areas with diverse forest species.
Zhang Xiulong, vice chairman of Guangxi, said that his autonomous region could be used as a pilot area in China-ASEAN forestry cooperation. With its unique geographical location, Guangxi is China’s only provincial region that not only shares a land border with an ASEAN country (Vietnam) but also has access to the sea. This makes it a crucial junction between southern China, southwest China and ASEAN. Guangxi’s total land area is nearly 240,000 square kilometers, which accounts for 2.5 percent of China’s total landmass. Of those 240,000 square kilometers, 61.8 percent is covered by forest, three times higher than China’s national average. More than 8,000 different plant species are currently known, and around 1,000 of those are trees.
Forestry-related industries play a key role in Guangxi’s economy. Liuzhou, Guilin and Nanning, three of the autonomous region’s largest cities, are home to a number of furniture import and export centers.
In 2015, Guangxi produced 26.5 million cubic meters of lumber, accounting for one-third of the nation’s total.
“These figures represent a basis for cooperation,” Zhang Xiulong said. “We can learn from cooperation efforts and apply what we learn to similar projects in the future.”
Chinese cooperation with Vietnam is especially important to Guangxi because of the 696-kilometer border that separates the two, Zhang Xiulong added. This cooperation can be broken down into three aspects.
First, Guangxi could serve as an important platform in broadening bilateral forestry cooperation by developing various kinds of expos and online business platforms to establish modern, largescale wholesale markets. Warehousing and logistics centers should also be established.
Second, Guangxi could serve as a pilot area in which China and ASEAN work together to rehabilitate forests. This could include protection of wildlife and rare plants, restricting and controlling wildlife smuggling and setting up warning systems regarding forest fires.
Third, Guangxi should share its technology and administration experience with ASEAN partners to develop improved products.
“I believe that by further cooperating with ASEAN countries, Guangxi will become a gate for China to open up to ASEAN countries,” Zhang Xiulong said.