BEIJING, July 17 – China on Thursday hit back at criticism of its approval as a licensed buyer of ivory, saying it had scored good results in the fight against illegal smuggling and sales of the product.
"The Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of wildlife, including elephants," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters.
"It has released a series of rules and regulations strictly cracking down on the illegal smuggling and sales of wildlife products including ivory, and has had obvious results."
The criticism from conservationists came after China was for the first time allowed to participate as a licensed buyer in an auction of 108 tonnes of ivory from African countries.
South Africa-based Animal Rights Africa said the decision, made by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), would facilitate the laundering of illegal ivory into the Chinese market.
"In real terms this represents the death of an estimated 7,699 South African elephants (1.8 tusks per elephant and 3.68kg per tusk)," the organisation said in a statement, highlighting how it would increase the poaching of elephants.
China is one of the world\’s biggest consumers of ivory, which is used mainly for ornaments and jewellery.
The auction of government-owned stockpiles, which includes ivory from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, is the second organised by CITES since 1999.
CITES, which groups 173 countries, banned international trade in ivory in 1989, but from 1997 onwards, it authorised a few African nations to hold ivory sales at regular intervals.
The decision, made on Tuesday, came a day before the detention of three Chinese nationals in Kenya on suspicion of smuggling ivory.
Liu said he was unclear about the details of the case.
"In general, the position of the Chinese government is that we strictly crackdown on illegal smuggling and sales," he said when asked about the detentions.