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Chapter 25. East Asia

Figure 25-1. East Asia: forest cover map

The subregion of East Asia comprises China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan and Republic of Korea[41] (Figure 25-1). China is by far the largest country, with 932 million hectares, making up about 94 percent of the entire subregion.

A wide range of terrestrial ecosystems are found in the subregion, most of which occur in China alone. According to the Department of Nature Conservation 1998, China has 599 types of terrestrial ecosystems including a wide range of forests, shrublands, steppes, meadows, savannah, deserts and alpine tundra. According to preliminary statistics, there are 212 types of forest, 36 types of bamboo forest, 113 types of shrubland, 77 types of meadow (27 typical, 20 salinized, nine marshy, 21 cold), 19 types of marshland (14 herbaceous, four woody, one peaty), 18 types of mangrove, 55 types of steppe, 52 types of desert, and 17 alpine tundra, alpine-cushionlike vegetation and alpine talus vegetation. China has more than 30 000 species of higher plants and 6 347 species of vertebrates, constituting 10 percent and 14 percent of the world's total number of species, respectively. The number of freshwater and marine ecosystems have not yet been assessed (China Department of Nature Conservation 1999).

Despite its relatively small size, Japan has widely varying climatic and topographic regions, which contribute to a diverse forest vegetation. Coniferous forests or mixed coniferous and broadleaf forests are found in the boreal or alpine zones, with deciduous forests in the temperate zone, and evergreen broadleaf forests in the warm temperate or subtropical zones. Large natural forests exist only in the Hokkaido region, which has 59.5 percent of total natural forests in Japan. Natural forests also occur on the flanks of the mountains of the Northeastern and Central region of Honshu and in the Southwest Islands. In other parts of Japan, small, frequently fragmented natural forests are distributed in alpine areas or solitary islands. Wetlands occupy a very small percentage of vegetation in Japan, providing important wildlife habitats. One type of wetland is a moorland which is maintained by rainfall and composed largely of aquatic mosses. The other is a moorland which is maintained by rivers and composed of ditch reeds (Biodiversity Center of Japan 1999).

Across from the Japanese archipelago lies the Korean peninsula. Vegetation on the peninsula is associated with warm-temperate, temperate and cold-temperate climates. In the north, the forest vegetation is primarily composed of conifers, which transition into mixed conifer and broadleaf forests in the centre of the peninsula. Mixed conifer and broadleaf forests occur in the south, east and west coasts. Warm-temperate vegetation is also found in the south coast and islands. Carpinus laxiflora forests are found in valleys on exposed mineral soil composed of granite and granite-gneiss (Republic of Korea Ministry of the Environment 2001).


The currency, accuracy and scope of data on forest resources vary considerably between countries. The National Forest Survey of China is very ambitious and surveys cover the country in five-year cycles using ground surveys and remote sensing. Data from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were not directly available and had to be obtained from studies based on satellite remote sensing published in the Republic of Korea. Forest cover figures for the Republic of Korea are based on continuous series of reports from subnational units, revised on an annual basis. Japan's assessment data for forest and other wooded land are based on a mosaic of statistics from several different inventories, each having different dates and using different definitions (UNECE/FAO 2000).

The subregion had an annual increase of 1.8 million hectares of forest in the 1990s, which was largely due to plantation programmes in China. Small annual increases were reported in Japan, and small annual decreases were reported for the Republic of Korea. No estimates on change were calculated for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea owing to a lack of information. However, the situation there is considered to be relatively static. Forests cover about 60 percent of the land in all countries except China, which has a forest cover of about 18 percent. Plantations constitute a significant part of the forest estates of China (27 percent), Japan (44 percent) and the Republic of Korea (21 percent) (Table 25-1, Figure 25-2). Information on the extent of plantations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was insufficient to calculate their percentage.

Figure 25-2. East Asia: natural forest and forest plantation areas 2000 and net area changes 1990-2000

Forest volume and biomass per hectare is much higher in Japan than in the other countries, which may be explained by their low levels of harvesting and extraction. China's low average forest volume and biomass are explained by the poor stocking of many of its forests and large areas of young plantations.


Two definitions for forest area managed were used in East Asia. Japan reported on forest managed in accordance with a formal or informal plan with a recommendation also to include areas where a conscious decision had been taken not to undertake any management interventions. The remaining countries in the subregion were asked to report on the area of forest managed in accordance with a formal, nationally approved management plan. Japan reported that 100 percent of its forests were managed according to the first definition, whereas the Republic of Korea reported that 66 percent of its total forest area was covered by a formal plan (Table 25-1). China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea did not provide national-level information on areas under management plans for FRA 2000.

In China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, there are several forms of ownership. In Japan most forests are privately owned. Both China and the Republic of Korea have forests owned by cooperatives, although the cooperatives in the Republic of Korea are more of an umbrella organization for private forest owners. In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, all forests are State-owned. In China, the State Forest Administration is responsible for coordinating protected areas, research and education and for controlling water resources and soil erosion.

Table 25-1. East Asia: forest resources and management


Land area

Forest area 2000

Area change 1990-2000 (total forest)

Volume and above-ground biomass (total forest)

Forest under management plan

Natural forest

Forest plantation

Total forest

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha


ha/ capita

000 ha/ year




000 ha



932 743

118 397

45 083

163 480



1 806






Dem People's Rep. of Korea

12 041

8 210


8 210










37 652

13 399

10 682

24 081







24 081


Republic of Korea

9 873

6 248


6 248







4 096


Total East Asia

992 309

146 254

55 765

202 019



1 805






Total Asia

3 084 746

431 946

115 847

547 793










13 063 900

3 682 722

186 733

3 869 455



-9 391






Source: Appendix 3, Tables 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9.
A system to protect China's wildlife is now taking shape. Official statistics show 630 nature reserves in China at the end of 1997, which cover an area of 61.5 million hectares, or 6.4 percent of the country. Some 14 ecological zones included in the United Nation's "Man and the Biosphere" network and seven zones listed in the international list of important wetlands are protected by the system. In addition, China has established 873 forest parks across the country, covering 7.5 million hectares (China Department of Nature Conservation 1999).

Silvicultural activities in China centre on plantation establishment and management. Significant research and development has been carried out on the management of high-yielding plantation tree species. The most common genera in plantations are Pinus, Larix, Eucalyptus and Populus. The single most common species in plantations is Cunninghamia lanceolata, which is typically grown in rotations of 25 to 30 years and intercropped with maize or vegetables, for example. Multipurpose species, such as Paulownia spp. are gaining in popularity. Shelterbelt plantations are also commonly used. In natural forests, the focus is on rehabilitation and includes silvicultural practices which enhance the secondary forest growth, although work still needs to be done to rehabilitate areas of degraded forests. Clear-felling of small areas is common, although there is a shift towards applying selective systems. Wildfires affect almost 1 million hectares annually in the subregion. Efforts to prevent and control forest fires have been carried out in some countries, such as the establishment of firebreaks in China's forests (Su Lifu 2001).

In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, all forest land is State-owned, and frequently promoted through cooperatives. Large afforestation campaigns were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s, but have now been discontinued. Many of the country's plantations are targeted at fuelwood production, and about 1.2 million hectares of plantations have now been planted using exotic species. Management plans are required for all forests, for which the government has developed a comprehensive set of operational regulations. Coppicing is often relied on to regenerate natural forests. Clear-felling is generally used when harvesting plantations, while selective systems are more frequently used in natural forests. The extent of the country's protected areas is not clear, but is believed to be in the range of 50 000 ha.

Some 40 percent of Japan's forests are owned by the public, and the remaining 60 percent are privately owned. About 2.5 million hectares are considered formally protected. Non-wood forest products play an important role in forest use, and include the collection and use of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, chestnuts, wax and lacquer. Actual timber harvesting is well below sustainable levels. This is due in part to the high costs of extraction associated with steep terrain. Plantations, which are dominated by conifers, account for more than 10.5 million hectares. Common species include cedar, cypress and pine. Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) and hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa) are two popular and valuable local species. Many plantations in Japan are young.

Current forestry legislation in the Republic of Korea was passed in 1961 and amended in 1994. The Forestry Administration is responsible for management of the country's forests and for providing extension services to forestry cooperatives. Forest cooperatives are organized into provincial cooperatives that belong to one of four federal cooperatives. The cooperatives are an umbrella grouping for private forest owners. By 1999, 72 percent of the total forest estate was privately owned. This is composed of 57 percent in individual ownership, 8 percent in family ownership, 5 percent in cooperation ownership, 1 percent in non-cooperation ownership and 1 percent owned by temples. Twenty-eight percent of the total forest estate is in public ownership (Korea Forest Service Service 2000).

Until the 1970s, reforestation in the Republic of Korea had taken place primarily in national forests. As a result, the density of government-owned forests was about three times greater than that of private forests. Most forest owners were smallholders with inadequate financial resources to purchase and maintain seedlings. During the Saemaul Movement, however, an ambitious rural development programme launched by former President Park Chung-Hee in 1971, the performance of the village forestry associations improved significantly. Between 1972 and 1979, forestry agents and village associations planted 1.4 million hectares with 3.4 million seedlings (Korea Forest Service 2000).

Silvicultural practices are largely confined to plantations, where the clear-felling system is common. Large areas of young plantations now exist. Commercial forestry is problematic owing to high labour costs and the existence of high volumes of damaged timber, although public subsidies are now being used to support forestry enterprises. A large number of protected areas exist, many of which provide some sort of protection against soil erosion and landslides. These include 20 national parks. Wildfires are reported be a problem.


Despite the massive undertaking of making a national inventory in so large a country, China is committed to routine surveys. Even though the periodic national inventories are not yet completely compatible with one another, they point to a large annual increase in China's forest cover through plantation establishment. In contrast, the extent and changes in the natural forest cover are less clear, as is forest degradation.

Information available from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is weak. In fact, FRA 2000 relied on a secondary remote sensing study conducted by the Forest Research Institute of the Republic of Korea to derive the assessment results. While it is believed that drought and famine may have led to the degradation of the forests in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, no substantive documentation is available to support this.

Information from Japan was considered to be of very high quality for all the parameters assessed.

Although information from the Republic of Korea for the assessment was considered reliable, some ambiguity existed concerning natural forest extent. According to the documents reviewed, the low-quality products from plantations and unfavourable conditions required to support commercial forestry seemed to be the most pressing challenges.

Except for China, all of the countries in the subregion are heavily forested. Even so, most forestry activities focus on meeting local needs rather than exports. Forest degradation was a major concern in all of the countries except Japan. However, standard measurement techniques for this parameter need refinement in order to assess the state of degradation.


Biodiversity Center of Japan. 1999. Convention on Biological Diversity. The first national report. Japan.

China. Department of Nature Conservation. 1999. A country study: the richness and uniqueness of China's biodiversity. China Environmental Sciences Press, State Environmental Protection Administration.

Korea Forest Service. 2000. Statistical yearbook of forestry 2000. Republic of Korea.

Korea Forest Research Institute. 1999. Preliminary report on the state of plantation. Republic of Korea, Forest Inventory Division.

Republic of Korea. Ministry of the Environment. 2001. Korean biodiversity clearing-house mechanism. Convention on Biological Diversity.

Su Lifu. 2001. The Study and planning of firebreaks in China. Global Fire Monitoring Centre.

UNECE/FAO. 2000. Forest resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand: contribution to the global Forest Resources Assessment 2000. Geneva Timber and Forest Study Papers 17. New York and Geneva, United Nations.

United States. Library of Congress. Country studies.

[41] For more details by country, see

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