After a longer-than-expected (though much needed and very much welcomed!) holiday, ChinainAfrica is back with a new look and fresh commentary. There is, indeed, much to discuss and many debates to be had. Not least of which is the recent move by the UN granting China permission to import elephant African ivory from government stockpiles.
The move allows China (together with Japan) to participate in a one-time auction, this a consequence of its "dramatically improved ivory enforcement rules." While the one-off trade has raised much criticism from environmental groups, more worrying are the long-term effects of this move: will China really be satisfied with a one-time purchase?
While I certainly cannot claim expertise in the area of China's ivory needs, it suffices to look no further than China's pursuit of other African resources - most obviously, oil - to get a sense of what we may expect. Indeed, despite pressure from human rights and other advocacy groups, Beijing remains infinitely more concerned with its own economic and development needs than those of its partners. This raises the concern, noted by Robbie Marsland, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, that this one-off allowance will "stimulate demand and create a smokescreen for illegal ivory to be laundered into the legal market." Indeed, signs of such a reality are already beginning to materialize.
It is, of course, too early to speculate about the ramifications of this development. Perhaps, in light of mounting international pressure, China will begin to cater to the concerns of environmental and rights groups. Indeed, Beijing still has a ways to go in substantiating the "partnership" aspect of its African policy. Irrespective of things of come, the recent move by the UN contributes yet another interesting dimension to the Sino-African puzzle and, perhaps most of all, raises questions over the UN's rationale.