Chinese deforest Cambodian rainforest to build a super casino
March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
A disturbing story appeared in Reuters last week:
China’s economic boom over the past 20 years has raised the standard of living for many, but as in the US, it’s benefited the very rich the most.
Chinese investors, flush with money, are razing a pristine rainforest for a gambling casino.
Cambodia’s government sold 130 square miles of untouched Botum Sakor – home to tigers, elephants and other endangered animals – to a Chinese real estate company, Tianjin Union Development Group.
It’s transforming the vast area to a city-sized gambling resort for “extravagant feasting and revelry,” say its website. A 40 mile highway that cuts right through the forest is almost complete.
Last year, the Cambodian government sold 2946 square miles of land concessions to wealthy Chinese investors – most of it in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries – according to research by the respected Cambodia Human Rights and Development Organization.
People who have lived on those lands for generations are being moved, and they’re beginning to protest.
“Such protests could ratchet up anti-Chinese sentiment in Cambodia, where China is both the largest foreign investor and source of foreign aid. That aid, often in the form of no-strings-attached infrastructure projects, has made Hun Sen less reliant on Western donors, who generally demand greater transparency and respect for human rights,” says Reuters.
Foreign conservation groups have been afraid to fight back in fear of being kicked out.
So much money is coming in from the Chinese that non-profits have little leverage. Although land-grabbing, illegal logging and forced evictions have long been common, by granting land concessions, the government has effectively legalized these practices in the country’s last remaining wilderness, say activists.
The group that’s building the casino has much bigger plans that include a road network, international airport, a port for large cruise ships, two reservoirs, condominiums, hotels, hospitals, and golf courses.
The government’s contract with Union Group is “shocking,” says Mathieu Pellerin, a researcher with the Cambodian human rights group Licadho. “Cambodia is giving away 36,000 hectares to a foreign entity with little if any oversight or obvious benefit to the people.”
Adding even more insult, Union Group pays no fees for the first decade of its lease.
Recently, Myanmar cancelled a $3.6 billion Chinese dam project because of widespread protests, and a proposed pipeline that would move oil and gas to China could meet the same fate.
China gave $1.19 billion in aid to Cambodia last year, about 10 times that of the US. Although China gives the aid without strings attached, its companies are being rewarded with non-transparent “access to mineral and resource wealth,” a US diplomat told Reuters.
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