By Fei Zhou
Malaysian police seized a batch of smuggled ivory at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in October. The ivories, which weighed up to 300 kilograms, were sent from the Bujumbura International Airport, at the capital of Burundi. The cargo's label showed the sender was "Lee Pan, the Chinese Embassy in Burundi," but the following investigations by Burundi showed it was an international ivory smuggling in the name of others.
In the wake of the incident, the Chinese embassy in Burundi immediately noted Burundi's Ministry of Exterior Relations, its national police force, requesting a thorough investigation of the case to find the true offenders and to preserve China's reputation. Soon enough, four suspects were arrested before they were pressed charges by local prosecutor in Burundi.
On Nov. 14, China's embassy in Burundi, Burundi's civil aviation authority (AACB) and its ministry of foreign affairs held a joint conference, during which the AACB General Director Albert Maniratunga clarified as saying that the case was jointly conspired by international ivory smugglers and criminals in Burundi, and was intended to muddle through customs checks by faking the owner as the Chinese embassy. Maniratunga said he was indignant by such a contemptible frame-up activity, and the Chinese embassy had completely no involvement in the smuggling case. [original remark possibly made in French, and unfound; info:
Also at the press conference, Ntahiraga, chief of the Asian and African Affairs, at Burundi's Ministry of Exterior Relations said the Burundi government was deeply regretful about the ivory smuggling crime. On behalf of the Burundi government, Ntahiraga strongly condemned the disgusting acts that attempted to taint image of brother-like China and its embassy in Burundi, to intentionally break the mutual trust between the two countries.
The Burundi government showed deep sympathy and firm support to the wrongful accusations that China and its embassy in Burundi received. Currently, the Burundi government is fully investigating the case, according to Ntahiraga, who believed the result would be known to the public soon. The Burundian senior diplomat also noted that the concrete and friendly bilateral cooperation between Burundi and China has seen fruitful achievements, and that any attempt that aimed to ruin such ties are doomed to fail.
Burundian reporters said that news reports about Chinese suspected in ivory smuggling were heard all the time, and that China is almost an immediate association with ivory. They said the case arose their deep sympathy and understanding to the unjust accusations to China and its embassy. They assured as saying that in the future, they would responsibly convey truthful information to Burundi public and the international community.
As a responsible major country and a contracting party of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), China has been "zero tolerant" to illegal poaching and smuggling of ivories. Statistics show that in the past 10 years, China customs launched 930 criminal cases of smuggling endangered species, in which 1,395 suspects were pressed charges against.
China customs reportedly seizes around one ton of smuggled ivory each year. But other data show that every year, more than 20,000 African elephants fall victims of illegal poaching, which produces 400 tons of ivories. Most of these illegal ivories did not enter China, but went to other countries.
But from time to time, international media or agencies claim that China is a major destination of illegal African ivory trade. Even a few days ago, a radical British environmental protection group groundlessly claimed Chinese government officials and military servicemen were involved in ivory smugglings. These groups, in spite of hard facts, tend to exaggerate that China is a major consumer and smuggler of ivories, and that naturally invites speculations of their ulterior motives.