Uganda apologizes for accusing diplomats
China reaffirmed on Wednesday its ban on the endangered species trade after Uganda said it mistakenly accused Chinese diplomats of being involved in smuggling ivory.
China's ban applies to government employees stationed or visiting abroad, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.
He added that those involved in the trade will be severely punished.
Lu's remarks come after Uganda apologized on Monday for the negative impact caused by mistakenly accusing two Chinese diplomats of smuggling ivory.
On May 2, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni reportedly sent a letter to chief prosecutor Irene Mulyagonja ordering her to investigate a case in which "Chinese diplomats" Li Weijin and someone referred to as Yinzhi allegedly connived with Uganda Wildlife Authority officials to illegally export ivory, reported africanews.com, a news outlet based in Congo Brazzaville.
The report was picked up by Western media and went viral.
China appreciates the clarification and efforts made by the Ugandan side in strengthening ties between the two nations, Lu said, adding that China will support African countries, including Uganda, in handling such trafficking cases.
"The whole incident was a huge mistake of the Uganda government. It was 'childish,'" He Wenping, a research fellow at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
On June 1, Chinese Ambassador to Uganda Zheng Zhuqiang strongly condemned the accusation for "being totally based on wrong information" as they could not find any name of the two alleged "diplomatic officials" in the embassy's records, the newspaper Cankao Xiaoxi reported.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying also condemned the information as groundless, reiterating China's strict ban on all officials and ambassadors from smuggling items or purchasing smuggled products. Hua said violators would be severely punished.
Following a "thorough review of its records," it has confirmed that both Li Wejin and Yinzhi are not diplomats assigned to the Embassy of China in Uganda, the Ugandan foreign ministry said in a statement.
The two people named are not diplomats and have left Uganda. It is unclear if they are involved in ivory smuggling.
However, He noted that the incident would not damage China-Uganda ties, and said that "China enjoys a good relationship with Uganda, as it does with other African countries, and cooperation between the two countries is moving smoothly."
Lu also said on Wednesday that Uganda's foreign ministry expressed regrets over the negative impact caused by the incident and reiterated its commitment to strengthening relations and friendship with China.
"Potential smugglers should avoid taking chances because China is strictly enforcing its ban," Jiang Zhigang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences institute of zoology told the Global Times.
"On China's commitment to fully implement the ban, no one should think they can escape the punishment," Jiang said.
On December 30, 2016, China announced the phasing out of ivory processing and sales by March 31, 2017, with all ivory processing and sales to cease by the end of 2017.
Around 20,000 elephants continue to be killed illegally each year across the African continent, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
To protect the animal, China should not be alone in the cause. It demands as much effort from elephant-habitat African countries to ban its people from hunting these animals and illegally exporting them, Jiang added.
Jiang said the ivory black market has significantly dropped since China announced it would shut down the domestic market.
The Guardian cited a study in March which said that by late 2015, just months after China symbolically burned half a ton of ivory and announced plans to end the domestic trade, the price had fallen to ,100 per kg. By February 2017, it had dropped further to 0 per kg.