The sharp increase in elephant poaching in Kenya and other African countries and illegal export of ivory should not be solely attributed to the increase in the number of Chinese nationals and companies in Africa as claimed by some media.
Ivory is not smuggled to China alone; it is smuggled to many other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the USA. The number of Chinese nationals involved in ivory smuggling and illegal trade is very small.
Their offences should not be allowed to ruin the overall excellent image of China as well as its nationals and companies both at home and abroad.
What critics don’t know is that China has extremely stringent laws against the illegal trade in ivory and the penalties are severe for the culprits.
China has added the African elephant to the list of the “first-class wildlife under special state protection”, so that ivory and its products are strictly controlled by the law and offenders given long sentences which include life imprisonment.
It is important to note that there exists a legal trade regime in ivory sanctioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
To stem poaching, CITES allowed a 62-tonne batch of elephant tusks to be exported into China under strict regulations. The non-poached ivory stockpiles were bought by Chinese traders at auctions and China was permitted to become a licensed buyer of ivory.
The Chinese Government requested all markets to brand their ivory products to check the flow of the products, and it set up a database information system on all ivory products to ensure no illegal ivory enters the market.
Illegal ivory trade is a big concern for China. The country has established robust controls to manage the legally stockpiled ivory to ensure it is not exported and is effectively monitored within China.
First, China has been conducting regular inspections and examinations of ivory stockpiles and restricts the annual consumption of ivory raw material.
Second, it has set up an inter-departmental special co-ordination team with advanced technologies to strengthen law-enforcement under the regulations of CITES. Third, it has set up a special fund for international protection of elephants.
The Chinese Government fully supports Kenya’s conservation and anti-smuggling efforts and is willing to participate in bilateral and multilateral co-operation with Kenya and other affected African countries.
Aware of Kenya’s and Africa’s concerns, the Chinese embassies in African countries have been educating Chinese citizens and companies in Africa against engaging in unlawful activities with an emphasis on ivory and rhino horn trade.
The Chinese authorities conduct strict checks and examinations on ivory, rhino horns and parts of other endangered species and will implement even stricter measures to curb this menace.
Stakeholders should consider working together and consulting the affected countries to forge a united front against poaching.
China highly appreciates the efforts made by Kenya in protecting elephants by combating poaching.
China is ready to work with the countries and organisations concerned to address such issues in a fair, objective and effective manner.
Mr Shifan is the spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Kenya