The Star | Tuesday November 11, 2008
Policies fuelled by greed
ALTHOUGH it is a member of the developing nations or what is known as the Global South, China’s emergence as an economic superpower has generated mixed reactions from its Asian neighbours.
Far from being an exemplary state, China’s investment policies abroad are fast becoming a source of conflict and discontent.
The manufacturing giant’s thirst for raw materials has resulted in the plundering of natural resources from other countries in the region. Conflicts are also rife over shared resources like rivers which pass through China’s territory.
Hence the issue of Chinese transgression was a hot topic in the recently concluded 7th Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum in Beijing.
Traditionally, most bilateral trade agreements were between developed countries in the West and developing countries. However, China has entered into similar agreements with other Asian and African countries following its admission to the World Trade Organisation in 2001.
In 2003, under an “early harvest” free trade pact, Thailand and China agreed that tariffs on more than 200 items of vegetables and fruits would be immediately eliminated. Under the agreement, Thailand would export tropical fruits to China, which in turn would supply winter fruits.
The arrival of cheap garlic from China has affected the income of farmers in Central Thailand.
“Earnings from rice farming is not that good but garlic fetches good money. The cost of growing garlic is 25 bahts (RM2.50) per kilogram; we sold them at 30 bahts (RM3) to make a profit,” said farmer Tussanee Verakan.
“After the influx of Chinese garlic, we could only sell them at 20 bahts (RM2) because the garlic from China is sold at 15 bahts (RM1.50). In China, the same garlic costs 10 bahts (RM1).
“Some farmers have given up on growing garlic although some still continue as there were requests from locals who preferred Thai garlic,” she said, adding that traditionally Thai rice farmers would grow garlic as an additional source of income.
She said market surveys showed that many Thais go for goods from China; the top 10 selling vegetable and fruits are from China.
Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul of FTA Watch noted that Thai food safety enforcers are understaffed and hard-pressed to inspect within 24 hours the Chinese imports that streamed into the country through the many entry points along the Mekong River.
“Samples taken by the Health Ministry showed high contamination of pesticides, including DDT and endosulfan which are banned in Thailand.
Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South said the Thai early harvest experience stoked fears of the region becoming a dumping ground for China’s competitive industrial and agricultural sectors under the China-Asean FTA targeted for 2010.
The growing appetite for fresh seafood among the rich Chinese is affecting the food sovereignty of fisherfolks in the Philippines who lost their traditional fishing ground to Chinese aquaculture investors.
Pablo Rosales, 49, of the Fisherfolk Movement of Philippines, said under an agreement between the two governments, 41 aquaculture zones of a minimum size of 200ha were allocated for Chinese businesses.
“These are largely artisanal fishermen who make a living by fishing in inshore waters. Before this, we fought the Japanese trawlers who encroached into our fishing zones although they have signed a treaty with the government which allowed them to fish in the Philippines exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles from shore),” said Pablo from Zambilliz Province, Luzon.
Chinese involvement in the oil and gas sector in Myanmar also came under criticism.
Activists said sales of the fossil fuel represents 45% of the military junta’s export earnings and a large part of the annual US$2.7bil revenue is used to prop up militarisation of the regime. Chinese companies form the largest group of foreign corporations in the lucrative sector.
The Shwe Gas Project in western Myanmar which involves the laying of a 2,380km-pipeline through densely populated central Myanmar into southwest China, is poised to increase the coffers of the regime by another US$24bil over the next 20 years.
However, this is causing resentment among people affected by the project and deprived of electricity powered by a resource from their homeland.