A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the hypocrisy of major green groups who remain silent on environmental destruction in the South China Sea. Despite what has been described as a “grand theft of the global commons”, Greenpeace, WWF, Conservation International and others have been missing in action.
China has embarked on a campaign of construction on a series of semi-submerged reefs. These outcrops are being transformed into military bases, as tensions rise in the South China Sea over claims to disputed groups of islands. To build these artificial islands, massive areas of coral in traditionally rich fishing grounds have been destroyed.
This destruction was described as “permanent and irreparable harm” by an arbitral tribunal in the Hague.
However, the major green groups have had very little to say. Some – such as Conservation International, WWF and Greenpeace – claim to refrain from making comment on political issues or territorial disputes.
The real reason appears to be more mercenary. All of these groups have major fundraising operations in China, and operate only with the approval of the Chinese government. The Journal article points out that criticism of China’s actions in the South China Sea would infuriate the government, jeopardising the access that green groups have to funding sources in China.
This issue is relevant to PNG forestry, as environmental groups have in the past attempted to disrupt the timber trade between the PNG and China.
It seems that the much-vaunted ability of environmental campaign groups such as WWF and Greenpeace to stand up to powerful governments has its limits. Donors in the West may think twice about supporting these organisations given their prioritising of revenue over environmental concerns when it comes to China.