|By Ralph Jennings, Kyodo News International, Tokyo|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 10, 2004 - BEIJING -- Asia Pulp & Paper Co., a major Southeast Asian logging company, is seeking 2.2 million yuan (about $266,000) in damages from a Chinese hotel association, arguing the association defamed APP by asking its members to quit using the firm's paper products based on reports of harmful forestry practices, the hotel group's legal advisers said Friday.
APP filed the lawsuit against the Zhejiang Province Hotel Industry Association with the Hangzhou Xihu District People's Court on Nov. 30. The company has also demanded a public apology from the association.
APP, headquartered in Singapore, is charging "infringement of its reputation" because, its legal documents say, it has no evidence of bad forestry practices.
The lawsuit was filed after the hotel association sent its 417 members a letter Nov. 18, urging them to quit using the paper company's products if they wanted to qualify for "green hotel" status. The letter was also posted on its website, On Nov. 16, Greenpeace released a report, saying the company's use of eucalyptus trees to replant a logged-over area violates Chinese forestry laws, uses too much water and threatens native wildlife.
More than 10 hotels in Zhejiang Province, which includes the tourist-intensive city of Hangzhou and a series of coastal resorts, have quit using the company's napkins, photocopy paper and office supplies, a legal adviser said.
APP has said the report was inaccurate. "The defendant's above-mentioned act seriously lacks factual evidence, and has violated the plaintiff's reputation and caused the plaintiff a huge economic loss," the lawsuit states.
The association's legal advisers say its action does not constitute defamation. If the Greenpeace report is inaccurate, the company can seek corrections but has no right to demand anything more, Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said.
A court hearing is due Jan. 9.
An association employee surnamed Wang said her organization had not tallied the number of hotels following the letter's advice but that Zhejiang Province's "environmental awareness is pretty strong." "We will continue with this campaign until APP makes an effective promise to (protect) China's environment," the association's letter says.
APP operates a large timber project in Yunnan Province, southwestern China.
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