Xi: ban domestic commercial ivory trade 中美象牙禁令解读

The state visit of President Xi Jingping may not achieve the fruitful result as the US expected, given China’s tough position on cyberattacks and the South China Sea issue, but the announcement of domestic commercial ivory ban indeed excited  the environmental groups. From what I see today, the internet is flooded with the words of praise, many call this action as a  “historical movement”.

My previous blog mentioned a brief timeline of China’s actions of this ivory war- several public destructions of the ivory products and a statement by the Premier Li Keqiang. It’s encouraging to see ivory has appeared to be a hot topic in the political discussion as well as in the public domain. The question now is, are words followed by actions?

Ivory use in China

Ivory carving benefits from the intangible cultural heritage, the official reason of the existence of the legal ivory market. Hence, the processing, sales and retailing of the legal ivory has received state support and permission. It began from the early 2000s, when the state started to make efforts to preserve the intangible traditional culture – an art form has thousands of years history. It is reported the state has also actively involved in the promotion of the ivory carving skills training to make sure it passes on. The need to sustain its cultural heritage was also the main reason given by the SFA when seeking CITES approval for the 2008 one-off ivory sale. To date, there are 34 ivory processing facilities permitted by SFA and134 licensed ivory retail outlets in China.

As both China and the US rank top 5 of the ivory consumption countries, the appeal reads as follows:

Wildlife Trafficking-  The United States and China, recognizing the importance and urgency of combating wildlife trafficking, commit to take positive measures to address this global challenge.  The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.  The two sides decided to further cooperate in joint training, technical exchanges, information sharing, and public education on combating wildlife trafficking, and enhance international law enforcement cooperation in this field.  The United States and China decided to cooperate with other nations in a comprehensive effort to combat wildlife trafficking.

I personally feel less excited with the wording used here, if it’s a ban of domestic commercial trade of ivory, then what else can exclude from this ban?There is no guarantee the non-commercial ivory trade will not emerge again in disguise of other purposes. Take tigers for example, tigers are listed under the state first class protection, which prohibits the any kind of commercial trade. However, the legal trade in its body parts and skins continue to persist under the cover of “for educational and scientific purposes”, which are primarily used as expensive home decor or business gifts.


It’s unfortunate the mentality of  utilisation of the wildlife products still persist in the majority of Chinese customers, and is largely encouraged by the state. The state could play a significant role in guiding the public’s opinion leads as well as conserve the intangible cultural heritage if it can achieve the following:

  • To move the domestic ivory trade away from the commercial use, SFA should immediately halt the new license issue to any ivory carving, process or retail outlets.
  • The existing stocks of ivory carvings should be preserved in a specialised museum, open to the public to truly achieve its conservational and aesthetic value.
  • Destroy the confiscated and seized illegal ivory stockpiles; send out a clear message to the international society that China hold the zero tolerance to the illegal ivory trade.
  • Review the relevant domestic laws and regulation as its legal basis.

Stay wild. xxx

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