[Marxism] China's growing economic power--follow-up

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 28 07:19:52 MDT 2004

>Closer to the border, the trade is in smuggled teak, a wood prized for its
>beauty and durability by China's surging furniture manufacturers. The teak
>trade is as illustrative as any of the symbiotic relationship between the
>Chinese and Burmese authorities.
>"China needs Burma's natural resources to fuel development on the border
>and in Yunnan Province as a whole," Simon Phillips, the author of a report
>on the trade published last year for Global Witness, a British
>nongovernmental organization, said in an interview.
>After China banned logging on its side of the border in 1998, Chinese
>companies moved their workers - tens of thousands of them - into Myanmar,
>he said. With the backing of political patrons in the Myanmar military, and
>in separatist militias, the loggers carried on their work with impunity.

Teak Trade
Draft Authors: Kevin T. Kunkel and Teri Emmons


1. The Issue

This case analysis examines the growing timber (specifically the hardwood 
teak) trade along the Thai-Burmese border from 1988 to present. Dramatic 
events in these two respective countries in late 1987 and 1988 led to a 
monumental shift in the scope and amount of trade among these two partners 
and their trade relations abroad. The trade has brought about untold 
suffering to the peoples of the region both through state sanctioned human 
rights abuses and the loss of a once vital and abundant ecosystem that 
provided for tribal agricultural practices. Many unilateral policies have 
been pursued by the Thai government but the recalcitrant authoritarian 
SLORC (Burma's ruling party) has profited from the trade and utilized the 
proceeds for its long standing dispute with Thailand over border 
territories. More recently, ASEAN has taken interest but so far to no avail.

2. Description

The changes in Teak trade have led to substantial deforestation with 
accompanying soil erosion and flooding that has not only, possibly 
irreparably, damaged the land but resulted in the death of hundreds of 
citizens. The trade has had additional repercussions ranging from 
government sponsored military interventions to the birth of a fledgling, 
though rapidly growing, green movement. Tertiary repercussions range from 
the routine human rights violations of tribal hill populations, to animal 
rights abuses in the use of elephants to haul timber.

The history of deforestation is long but in nearing the end of the 
twentieth century the problem has become a virtual epidemic. Burma is one 
of the most recent culprits of deforestation. In the brief eight years of 
increased teak export in the southern region of Burma (Myanmar), bordering 
Thailand, the sheer destructiveness of the trade has gone largely without 
bounds or restrictions. In 1992, Burma was listed the third in rainforest 

Due to the closed nature of the regimes in Burma and Thailand clear 
assessment of the extent of the damage has been difficult. The Association 
of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) has made numerous attempts to evaluate 
the scale and depth of the problem. This culminated in the ASEAN Plan of 
Action for the Environment.

The established international community through Greenpeace and the World 
Wildlife Fund (WWF) have also sought to monitor the issue. The UN has 
attempted to address the problem, with varying degrees of success.

With the student led revolt against the authoritarian and autarkic regime 
of the Burmese People's Republic in August 1988, there was a tentative 
opening and a brief facade of the pursuit of democracy in Burma, despite 
the reigning despotic military junta. In 1990, elections in Burma favored 
the National League of Democracy by 80%, but were declared null and void by 
the militarily coordinated State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).(2)

Within two years, Thailand also became briefly engulfed in a student 
inspired bloodless coup. Prior to the coup, the "puppet democracy" in 
Thailand for decades had been controlled by the military generals. After 
the coup, democratic institutions and principles became more entrenched and 
sovereign. This freed the popularly elected civilian administration from 
military intervention. Concurrently, a fledgling green movement began to 
take root when it became publicly apparent that nearly two-thirds of 
Thailand's teak forests had been cleared, and that the state could no 
longer rely on timber as a means toward their successful economic 
development (3). In the past, the unaccountable generals' have personally 
profited from kickbacks associated with the teak trade.

By the end of 1988 a pattern of trade was beginning to take root between 
these Thailand and Burma. This was compounded when, in January 1989, 
Thailand banned the harvesting timber in the country following the worst 
flooding there in nearly a century.

The environmental disruption caused by deforestation (evident by the 
flooding) and Thailand's move to democracy through industrializing its 
economy, resulted in the reduction of its domestically unpopular and 
environmentally destructive raw material exports. Burma, on the other hand, 
one of the poorest nations and desperate for economic capital, was ready to 
depart from nearly forty years of a closed economy. The easiest way to 
accomplish this: filling vacuum left by Thailand's decreased timber 
exports; the source: Burma's mature and relatively unspoiled teak forests.

full: http://www.american.edu/projects/mandala/TED/ice/TEAK.HTM

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