China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) Wednesday charged the Singapore-based Asia Pulp Paper Co. (APP), one of the world's leading paper makers, with illegal tree felling in the southwestern province of Yunnan, and vowed to punish anyone responsible once the investigation is completed.
"The investigation is not finished yet, but we have indeed spotted illegal logging in an APP project after initial investigation. We believe that both APP and local governments are responsible for the violation," said Wang Zhuxiong, a senior SFA official said Wednesday.
"No violator will escape punishment when the investigation is finished," said Wang, deputy director of the Forest Resources Management Department under the SFA, at a national conference on cracking down on deforestation activities in Beijing.
Once its role in the scandal is confirmed, APP, a subsidiary ofIndonesian-based paper maker the Sinar Mas Group, could become thefirst foreign venture punished for environmental violations in China.
Under Chinese criminal law, anyone convicted of illegal deforestation faces a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
The SFA's announcement came four months after Greenpeace accused APP of "vandalizing China's forests" in its Yunnan project last November. APP has since faced a non-governmental boycott initiated by the Chinese environmentalists.
The international environmentalist NGO submitted a report to the SFA, exposing that APP, which launched a "wasteland forestation program" in 2002 for its material supply in Yunnan, was actually cutting down China's virgin forests, as only 20 percent of the 1.8 million hectares of land covered by the project was real wasteland.
The report prompted the SFA to immediately dispatch a task force to investigate the case. The agency found that more than 24,700 cubic meters of timber were logged without government approval in the project, said Wang.
An APP spokesman told Xinhua Wednesday that while negotiating with the Yunnan provincial government on the project, the company had only targeted wasteland. He added that the provincial government welcomes APP investment.
The SFA investigation also discredited a previous report from the Yunnan provincial forestry department released earlier this year, which claimed that it was local project contractors and farmers who cut down the natural forests.
"How could the farmers themselves initiate such massive logging?" asked Wang.
An official with the Yunnan provincial forestry department reached by Xinhua on the phone Wednesday refused to comment on the SFA statement.
Learning the SFA statement, Zhong Yu, a Greenpeace campaigner based in Beijing, said that the organization appreciates the Chinese government's efforts in natural forests protection, and hopes the SFA can continue the investigation on the APP project inYunnan.
She said that the Yunnan project was only one of APP's many programs in China and the Chinese government should also keep a close watch over APP's other projects in the country.
The APP owns 13 pulp and paper companies and more than 20 plants in China, with gross assets of 5.5 billion US dollars in the country.
Zhang Feida, a member of the Beijing-based environmental group the Blue Sky Society, said he hoped governmental intervention and consumers' boycott can eventually save unlogged forests covered by the APP project in Yunnan.
Zhang, a university student, and other campus environmentalistsin Beijing Monday evening initiated a boycott against APP, calling all college students and faculty members to reject APP products.
"China welcomes and encourages overseas investment in its forestry sector, but never at the cost of our ecological environment," said SFA's Wang at Wednesday's conference.