Banning the Ivory Trade in Hong Kong

By Bouillot, Claire | China Perspectives, October 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Banning the Ivory Trade in Hong Kong


Bouillot, Claire, China Perspectives


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The date of 31 January 2018 marked the adoption in Hong Kong of a three-phased law banning trading in elephant ivory that will come into full effect on 31 December 2021.(1) This follows the decision of mainland China outlawing this practice from 31 December 2017. These new ordinances, which derive from an international convention (CITES),(2) are particularly adapted to these places as they represent (with Japan) the world's principal destination of ivory, both legal and illegal, and have done so since the 1950s (Barbier et al. 2009). This trade, and especially its illegal strand, threatens the survival of Africa's elephants, whose ivory is regarded as precious (Wittemyer et al. 2014; Thouless et al. 2016).

In Hong Kong, the movement of ivory is regularly in the news. July 2017 recorded the largest seizure of illegal ivory in the past 30 years (7.2 tonnes).(3) Early 2018 was also noteworthy on account of two events: on the one hand, the resignation of a member of the governmental consultative committee on endangered species (who is also an ivory trader), who had been selling illegal ivory, thus lending a whiff a scandal to the legislative process;(4) and on the other hand, the despicable killing in Nairobi of Esmond Bradley Martin, one of the leading experts on the trafficking of ivory.(5)

These national and international events, together with scientific studies and various other reports, have been part of the context of legislative reform in Hong Kong. They are an indication of the complex nature of the issues involved, as can be seen in the stormy legislative debates brought about by competing interests. Quite a number of local newspaper articles (in English and Chinese alike), as well as the (English-language) press in mainland China, have covered this reform by exposing the tensions, divergent points of view, and arguments of the protagonists. It might still appear, however, that there has been little discussion of certain points. The present article will highlight, through an analysis of the media's treatment of the legislative reform process in Hong Kong, the political issues at stake in this ban, and in particular the grey areas of the public debate. It tries to break with the dichotomy "for" or "against" that are often typical of debates on the extinction of these emblematic mammals. In this press review I undertake a detailed analysis of local newspaper articles, essentially those of the English-language press. Of the 41 articles examined, I selected 21 on the basis of their relevance to legislative reform in Hong Kong and the diversity of their content. Two articles from the Chinese-language local press (selected from 28 articles), as well as six articles from the mainland's English-language press (selected from 47 articles) serve to underscore this analysis. These articles were published between 2015 and July 2018, that is, from the announcement of the reform until its initial implementation. This article will refer to the timeline of the reform with respect to several key moments and questions that require particular attention. The inevitability of the reform

In 2015, President Xi Jinping made a commitment to a progressive ban on the ivory trade in mainland China.(6) In Hong Kong, the news was received as a positive sign of a future ban on trade on the island.(7) Indeed, as early as January 2016, the then head of the Hong Kong Executive Council, Leung Chun-ying, announced his intention to shut down the market. A bill strengthening the previous provisions was drawn up in 2016, and subsequently debated in the Legislative Council in 2017 before being adopted on 31 January 2018. Whilst the reform was quickly ratified in the wake of mainland China's decision in this area, the newspaper articles do not highlight the connections between the two reforms, particularly the political dynamics in relation to governance issues. The conservation of African elephants through two similar ordinances would therefore seem to constitute a consensus between mainland China and Hong Kong. …

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