Three years ago, in a briefing paper, the World Wide Fund (WWF) had detailed how China’s signature One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR), more commonly known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), overlaps with over 1,700 critical biodiversity sites and adversely affects the ranges of 265 threatened species.
Another study published in 2018 by Nature Sustainability suggested that BRI projects may lead to “permanent environmental degradation” due to environmental harm through pollution, habitat loss, and wildlife mortality, among others.
Aspiring to build a network of land and maritime trade routes, ecological preservation was probably the last thing on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mind though he still kept on suggesting that the partner countries should deepen cooperation in environmental protection and build “a green Silk Road.” It only turned out to be yet another false promise made by the Communist China. As US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Sunday, China’s ruling Communist Party “does not honor its words or commitments.”
One doesn’t have to go too far. Just have a look at Gilgit-Baltistan in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to realize the magnitude of damage and destruction being done by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the BRI. The massive environmental degradation, deforestation and construction work in the region has not only changed the course of rivers but also the lives of locals, sadly for the worse. The protests against China and the Imran Khan government on the streets of Muzaffarabad, the slogans like “Neelum-Jhelum behne do, humein zinda rehne do” (let Neelum Jhelum rivers flow, let us stay alive), the mention of the UNSC resolutions for “occupying” rivers is an everyday affair in the PoK these days.
Xi wanted BRI to be “green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful”—it is anything but that. So, it isn’t very surprising to see a cold response from the world community as the Chinese President once again used a global platform like the United Nations General Assembly last week to announce his country’s intention to step up climate action ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26.
“Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature. We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” he told the UNGA.
The US government was quick to respond, releasing a detailed ‘fact sheet’ on ‘China’s environmental abuses’ accusing Beijing of being the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases; the largest source of marine debris; the worst perpetrators of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and the world’s largest consumer of trafficked wildlife and timber products.
“While the Chinese people have suffered the worst environmental impacts of its actions, Beijing also threatens the global economy and global health by unsustainably exploiting natural resources and exporting its willful disregard for the environment through its One Belt One Road initiative. Tragically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) represses civil society and a free press, slowing changes that would benefit its citizens and people all over the world,” said the document prepared by the US State Department.
Late last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had tweeted: “Too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on willful disregard for air, land, and water quality. The Chinese people—and the world—deserve better.” He added that China is responsible for nearly 30 per cent of global plastic pollution and is the largest emitter of mercury, marine debris and greenhouse gases.
The Department of State’s fact sheet also made the world take notice of the shocking reality of BRI-funded projects, something the residents of PoK have been trying to do for years.
“Implementation of BRI lacks clear environmental guidelines, safety standards, and worker protections. Many BRI-funded projects do not meet international standards, leaving countries to deal with the harmful consequences long after a project is completed. Environmental safeguards depend on the laws of host countries, and Beijing is leading nations away from developing their economies sustainably. In recent years, Chinese-backed projects on several continents have displaced local populations, negatively affected water quality, polluted adjacent land, and spoiled fragile ecosystems. Many planned Chinese infrastructure projects worldwide would do similar harm,” said the document.
So will China act now, finally? Will it stop manipulating, disrupting the natural water flow of rivers like Mekong which has resulted in catastrophic consequences for its downstream neighbors? Will China—one of the world’s worst perpetrators of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing—stop its vessels from routinely violating the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of other coastal countries? Will China—the world’s largest emitter of marine plastic debris—stop releasing millions of tons of plastic waste into the ocean? Will Beijing’s ever-increasing energy-related emissions decrease anytime in near future? Will air pollution from China continue to affect downwind countries? Will the sales of high-risk wildlife in wet markets of China ever stop?
Will China ever stop doing all, or any, of these? Ever? No, instead its ‘wolf warriors’ simply fire back at the Donald Trump administration.
“The US is the biggest destroyer of international environmental cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said yesterday.
The Chinese simply love playing ping-pong. Period.