Chinese officials are denying reports that its growing appetite for timber is fueling illegal logging in neighboring countries, but admits the illegal trade in wildlife is likely to grow with the economy.
International conservation organizations say that China's growing role in processing wood for construction materials and furniture is destroying forests in Southeast Asia. China's State Forestry Administration denies the research.
Its spokesman, Cao Qingyao, was speaking at a press conference to promote ongoing work for forest and wildlife conservation on Tuesday. He says the accusations are groundless.
"The Chinese government consistently upholds and puts in practice collective international responsibility, opposing and firmly cracking down on illegal logging and illegal wood imports," he said.
The environmental protection group Greenpeace says half of all tropical trees logged in the world end up in China. Most of those are felled illegally from forests in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The London-based Global Witness organization says almost all logs imported by China from Burma last year were illegal.
Cao says Chinese logging companies operating abroad are legal contractors and not involved in the illicit trade. And he says claims that China's growing wood consumption is unsustainable have no basis.
"According to our plan, by 2020 China's forest cover will reach 23 percent. Looking at this we can see that China has not depleted forests, we are developing them," added Cao.
Conservation organizations say China is also a major market for forest animals and plants, including endangered species for use in exotic foods and traditional medicines.
Cao says the illegal trade in wild animals and plants is rampant and has hindered efforts to protect the country's biodiversity. He says China's growing economy will fuel demand, posing a challenge to law enforcers.
"The demand in China for wildlife resources will continue to grow. And, illegal trade will continue to exist with us," he said. "Cracking down on the illicit trade is a heavy burden and we have a long way to go."
Cao says China has stepped up cooperation with the international police organization Interpol and wildlife protection networks to combat illegal wildlife trade.