TBT - The Trouble With China

My troubles with this country started in the 1950s when they ran the Dali Lama out of Tibet. Having read a good deal about Tibet and this spiritual leader when I was a young man, I was greatly saddened by that event and still consider it one of the great tragedies in my lifetime.

I was also troubled by what I saw when living in Vietnam in 1995. The rapid growth of the consumer society in China started putting a lot of pressure on the worldís wildlife populations. Asians love to eat just about anything that walks, crawls, hops, flies or swims - and the Chinese have traditionally made a big deal out of eating things like bear paws (from real bears), tiger tongue, rhino horn, rare tortoises, and snakes. Many of these species were already on the brink of extinction - and the rising Chinese economy gave them the ability to buy increasing quantities of rare species to eat - accelerating the loss of wildlife. They believe that these animals and their various body parts have mythical powers that pass to the consumer when eaten - while the reality is that some Chinese have very exotic and expensive poop.

While I was in Vietnam exporting reptiles for the pet trade I was in completion with people who were illegally shipping out animals and reptiles to the Chinese food market. When I told my brother in Washington State about what was going on he replied that this was a tremendous problem where he lived in the Pacific Northwest, with poachers killing Black Bears and other wildlife for clandestine sales to the Chinese black market. Many of my Vietnamese exports of reptiles and tortoises went to breeders who were trying to save these species from extinction - the black market people in Vietnam were sending the wildlife to superstitious food processors in China.

While in Vietnam I was also looking into exporting live marine tropical fish for the aquarium trade - and the area that looked most promising were the Spratly Islands. But I was not able to go there as China was threatening all the countries surrounding the islands (including Vietnam) if they did not recognize China's exclusive rights to the Spratlys. Today the Chinese are building airstrips and dredging the shore line to produce harbors and higher land on these islands to solidify their claim - and in the process destroying what was previously a very large and unspoiled coral reef system.

But the chickens are coming home to roost. The rapid development of China's economy over the last 20+ years has resulted in deadly environmental pollution. Right now in Beijing millions of children are at home because of school closings (sort of like 'snow days' for kids) and 5 million cars have been ordered off the roads (using alternate dates for even and odd numbered license plates) due to the extreme amount of air pollution. Scientists say that as long as this condition exists millions of Chinese citizens will have their life spans diminished - just like the life spans of the wildlife they are exploiting.

With visibility down to less then 700 feet in Beijing and the surrounding area lately - Barbara and I were lucky to see China and all its glory on our trip there last year - while it was still visible !