The ecological damage that China's breakneck industrialisation is having on the country itself has been widely recognised. In an interview earlier this year, China's deputy environment minister, Pan Yue, said five of the 10 most polluted cities worldwide are in China; acid rain is falling on one-third of the country; half of the water in its seven largest rivers is "completely useless"; a quarter of China's citizens lack access to clean drinking water; one-third of the urban population is breathing polluted air; and less than a fifth of the rubbish in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable way. But China's malign environmental "footprint" on other countries has been less widely reported.

John Sauven, forest campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: "Western politicians, who think only in terms of gross domestic product, have seen China as some sort of economic wonderland. Tony Blair went to China with British businessmen in September and said how he wanted a slice of the cake. But the growth figures mask an environmental catastrophe. The Chinese are ripping the heart out of the world's irreplaceable rainforests to make cheap products like plywood for Western consumer markets."
The Greenpeace report details how, with incredible speed, China has become the world's largest plywood producer and exporter. Its export market has grown from less than one million cubic metres per annum in 1998 to nearly 11 million cubic metres in 2004.
China banned logging in large areas of its own natural forest in 1998 after catastrophic floods, themselves a direct result of deforestation, killed thousands of people. "This ban, coupled with massive growth in Chinese timber processing capacity and a liberalisation of trade barriers, led China to look overseas in its hunger for timber," says the Greenpeace report.
In one area of China investigated by the group, there were no fewer than 9,000 plywood mills taking in vast numbers of ancient hardwood trees from rainforests in countries such as Papua New Guinea, which are used merely to make plywood panels. Greenpeace contends that many of these trees, if not the majority, have been illegally logged.
The report, entitled Partners in Crime, does not blame only China - it accuses timber barons in rainforest countries of corruption in illegally supplying the wood, and builders' merchants and DIY outlets in Britain of culpable negligence in supplying plywood without establishing its origin. Chinese hardwood plywood imports to the UK have gone from 1 per cent of the total in 2001 to 30 per cent this year.
Greenpeace wants the EU, and failing that, Britain alone, to outlaw the import of timber which has not clearly been legally logged. At the moment there are no restrictions on illegally logged timber coming into Britain.
THE NUMBERS
Consumption
China - growing at nearly 10% a year - already consumes more grain, meat, coal and steel than the United States
Wealth
China's population will grow from 1.3 billion to 1.45 billion in 26 years - when per capita income will be equal to that of the US today
Oil
On current trends, China will by 2031 be consuming 99 million barrels of oil per day. Total world production today is only 84 million bpd
Forestry
China is already the biggest driver of rainforest destruction, says Greenpeace. Half of all rainforest logs head for China
Global warming
By 2025, China will overtake the US as the top emitter of the greenhouse gases causing global warming
Cars
By 2031, China would have 1.1 billion cars if it matches current US trends - bigger than the current world fleet of 800 million