Western-funded green groups are wrongly accusing mainland companies of causing environment destruction and creating social problems in Southeast Asia to restrain China's economic influence in countries along the Mekong River, a top government think tank claims in a new report published yesterday.
Two studies, part of a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences annual report on co-operation and development in the Greater Mekong sub-region, admitted that agricultural, mining and hydro projects with Chinese investment had caused adverse environmental impact in countries including Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
But international environmental groups working in the region, most of which receive funding from Western countries, were also "irresponsibly attacking Chinese investors and misleading local communities with biased reports", aimed at limiting China's economic influence in the region, the studies said.
Such negative publicity, without granting Chinese companies an opportunity to reply, could also cripple China's global investment ambitions outside the Mekong region, the studies warned.
China has already suffered economic losses after several Chinese-funded projects - including the Myitsone Dam and a copper mine in Myanmar and a real estate project in Cambodia - were either suspended or scrapped following protests over environmental concerns by local communities.
"It is true that Chinese companies were not doing enough to protect the local ecology, but environmental groups' exaggerated claims have severely damaged China's reputation," said Professor Lu Guangsheng from Yunnan University's institute of Southeast Asian studies, one of the authors of the studies.
The studies said some environmental groups wrongly blamed China for a prolonged drought along the Mekong in 2009 and 2010, simply because China has constructed 11 dams on the upper reaches of the river inside China.
In another case, protests led by the Kachin Development Networking Group in Myanmar, a network of Kachin civil society groups, was a major reason for the suspension of the US$3 billion Myitsone Dam - the largest hydro power project in Myanmar - by the China Power Investment Corporation, according to the studies.
The Kachin group compiled two reports, in 2007 and 2011, highlighting the social and ecological impact of the enormous dam designed to flood an area the size of Singapore, and displace as many as 10,000 ethic Kachins in the restive northeast of the country. The dam will provide power mostly to cities in nearby Yunnan province.
Lu also said there was evidence that some of the environmental groups received Western funding, but refusing to give names.
Most international green groups active in the Mekong countries were initiated in Western countries, therefore "bear Western ideology and are deeply influenced by Western politics", the report said. "They tend to over-emphasise the significance of environmental protection, while ignoring Mekong countries' demand for economic development, threatening the sovereign rights of these countries."
China's direct investment in the five Mekong countries - Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam - increased from US$93 million in 2003 to US$1.7 billion in 2011, the report said.
Although the central government had published a set of green guidelines for Chinese investors working overseas since 2005, some Chinese companies were obviously failing to observe the rules in pursuit of business interests, said Liu Zhi, also from Yunnan University, told the South China Morning Post.
"The companies are grabbing the economic benefits, but the national interest is being damaged," she said.