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Embarrassing Arrests Mar China's Ivory Win

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 16, 2008

Yesterday the Chinese government won a big victory over environmentalists, with the UN giving China permission to become one of two countries engaged in the legal trade of ivory. (Japan’s the other.) Activists working to protect Africa’s elephants are livid, saying the move will make it easier for smugglers to transport ivory illegally to Chinese consumers. For instance, according to Sky News, Robbie Marsland, the director in Britain for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says “Allowing new ivory to be imported into China will stimulate demand and create a smokescreen for illegal ivory to be laundered into the legal market.”

The British government, which voted with the majority to allow China’s entry into the ivory trade, has defended its move by pointing to progress by Beijing in controlling smuggling. Here’s British Wildlife Minister Joan Ruddock, as quoted in the Independent: “China has shown itself willing to crack down on illegal ivory trading and we expect them to continue to do so.”

Who knows, maybe she’s right. Maybe allowing China to import ivory from elephants killed legally, in efforts to control herd populations, will help fund conservation programs in Africa while also depressing prices on the black market by expanding supply. And maybe the Chinese government, which has been struggling for years to crack down on all sorts of counterfeiting and smuggling, will manage to succeed in the fight against the illegal ivory trade.

Maybe. But environmentalists probably have a point that giving the OK to Chinese ivory imports will for now just boost demand in China and make illegal ivory trading even more lucrative. And in an unfortunate coincidence, less than 24 hours after the vote in favor of China’s ivory traders, the world got a reminder that ivory smuggling into China remains a major problem, despite talk about a crackdown. This morning, police in Kenya arrested two women about to board a flight to China for allegedly trying to smuggle 36 pieces of ivory out of the country.

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Reader Comments


July 16, 2008 12:21 PM

What is the problem with buying Ivory from the market? It is legal since everyone is doing it? Why is China alway picked on?
Do you know Bruce?

The demand for Ivory was there even before China was purchasing from Africa but since it is China buying Ivory then it become a "issue".


July 16, 2008 01:24 PM

Certainly when the westerners steal Chinese artefacts and smugle them out is nothing to be embarassed about, right?


July 16, 2008 01:51 PM

We caught large groups of illegal immigrants (heading) toward the U.S. And this must mean it's all the U.S.'s fault.



July 16, 2008 01:57 PM

Hmmm, so if you caught smugglers half way across the earth, the country which they are heading must be at fault?? Instead of the country which tried to smuggle the goods out??

The caught smugglers were not in China, nor Chinese. How was that embarrassing for China?


July 17, 2008 12:23 AM

Yeah right. If you caught some drug dealers in South America, it must be such a huge embarrassment for the U.S. if those drug dealers were packing up and ready to head to the U.S.?


July 17, 2008 02:22 PM

Trading legally in ivory, no matter how well intentioned, will only end in the deaths of more animals that it is harvested from. Legal markets will only help the illegal trade because of the difficulty of tracking the origin of the ivory.
I think this another example of countries pandering to China because they don't want to be shut out of their market.


July 17, 2008 09:15 PM

Nothing is more embarrassment than the Western imperialism---killing, exploiting, ransacking (Chinese 'Yuan Ming Yuan') and robbing.


October 26, 2009 12:16 AM

Slaughtering elephants for ivory and letting it be sold is the death knell for elephants. It's estimated that 34,000 a year are being killed for ivory trade and that within 15 years (2025) , if ivory slaughter continues, elephants will become extinct. How can the UN be allowed to make these decisions?

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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