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Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Lin Songtian of China to South Africa at the Africa-China Wildlife Conservation Conference

Respected Professor and Dean Ebrahim Momoniat,

Respected Chief Director Ms. Valerie Matlou from DIRCO,

Dear wildlife conservationists and researchers,

Members of the Chinese community and representatives of Chinese businesses,

Friends and colleagues,

Good afternoon!

It is my great pleasure to join you at the Wits University for the Africa-China Wildlife Conservation Conference.

For those of you who know me well, I have been involved in China-Africa relations for many years, and I have for a long time dedicated myself to China-Africa friendly cooperation. Throughout my career, one thing that I hate the most is when I learn from the news that some Chinese were caught poaching and smuggling wildlife and its products, because what they have done gravely undermines the good image and the interests of China and the Chinese people. Some of these negative news reporting are based on individual cases. Sometimes, there was misinformation and play-ups involved. But under lots of circumstances, what confronts us is the lack of communication to the South African and African public on the policies, laws and regulations, as well as the efforts of the Chinese government in wildlife protection. Today, I wish to use this opportunity to share with you the strong commitment and major efforts of the government and the people of China in wildlife conservation.

In March this year, during the Chinese Spring Festival, the Chinese Embassy hosted a celebratory event in Johannesburg, which featured the theme of wildlife conservation. During the two-day event, we have organized successful charity sale and auction, which has received strong support from the Chinese community and the Chinese businesses in South Africa. Tens of thousands of members of the public actively participated, and the event collected 200,000 rand, which was donated to Kruger National Park in full to support their efforts in capacity building.

We are very happy to see that in just over 3 months, Chinese groups and civil organizations once again take up the initiative to focus on wildlife conservation. This Conference, co-organized by Africa-China Reporting Project at Wits in partnership with many Chinese civil groups and organizations, offers a great opportunity to communicate China’s wildlife conservation policies and measures to the South African and African people. It is extremely helpful in showcasing the achievements in China-South Africa and China-Africa cooperation in wildlife protection. And we believe that this Conference will help mobilize and encourage more people from China and South Africa to care about and support wildlife conservation.

In particular, I wish to express my heartfelt respects to Mr. Huang Hongxiang, who is also the Founder of China House, one of the organizers of this Conference. This very promising young man from Guangdong, who is still under 30, is already a known and respected figure across China and around the world. As a student of Fudan University in China and Columbia University in the United States, Mr. Huang had the choice of a well-paid job and comfortable life in the US. But he chose to come to Africa and committed himself to the cause of wildlife conservation. He risked his life doing undercover for the documentary. He showed to the world through his real action that, “there are Chinese who are fighting for the elephants”. In China, we have many more others who are like Mr. Huang, such as basketball player Yao Ming, and many other ordinary people. They have committed themselves to wildlife conservation. And their passion and dedication have inspired and will continue to inspire more and more Chinese people for wildlife conservation. That is also why I am here today. I am here to express my strong support and high respect to the organizers and participants of this event.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Respecting the nature and cherishing life is the consistent idea and aspiration of the Chinese culture. In the traditional Chinese culture, we believe in “unity of the universe and human”. The essence of this idea is to view the nature and mankind as a harmonious union, emphasizing harmonious coexistence between the two. The Chinese President Xi Jinping remarked that, sound ecological environment is the most equal public good and offers the most universal public welfare. He also stressed that man and nature form a community of life. We must respect the nature, follow the laws of nature, and protect the nature. Upholding harmonious coexistence between man and nature is an important part of China’s efforts in upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. It is an objective requirement and active pursuit of our efforts to building a beautiful China. It also offers us the direction towards a community with a shared future for mankind and towards a clean and beautiful world.

The Chinese government always attaches great importance to the protection of wildlife. In terms of legislations, the Chinese government has already adopted Methods to Protect Rare Biological Species, the Law on the Protection of Wildlife, Regulations for the Implementation of the Protection of Terrestrial Wildlife and many other laws and regulations on wildlife protection. In recent years, the Chinese government has implemented major projects on biodiversity protection, tightened administration and control over import and export of wildlife and plants, and cracked down hard on the illegal trade of ivory and other wildlife products. As we all know, ivory carving is an important intangible cultural heritage cherished in China. But to show the firm determination and resolve of the Chinese government on wildlife protection, we have decided to put a comprehensive ban on all ivory and ivory products trade on 31 December last year, including those that are legally sourced. This decision led to the shutting down of 34 ivory processing sites and 143 sales sites. The Chinese citizens and companies are strictly banned from ivory trade and elephant poaching. Chinese citizens are strictly prohibited from smuggling ivory and ivory products. If government workers were found involved, they will not only be punished by law, but also be expelled from office. It is fair to say that today, the Chinese government has adopted the world’s toughest stance of zero tolerance on wildlife protection. No exception will be made against the criminals, and no one will be allowed to buy his way out of prison sentence.

Wildlife protection is a common cause for the whole mankind. As a contracting party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Chinese government has always taken an active part in international cooperation, and has attached great importance to strengthening cooperation with African countries to combat all crimes against wildlife. From 2013 to 2015, China has joined forces with South Africa, the United States, Interpol and other countries and organizations to carry out three anti-smuggling endangered species activities code-named “Operation COBRA”, effectively curbing criminal activities such as smuggling ivory, and receiving high praise from the CITES Secretary General. In 2015, during the FOCAC Johannesburg Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the China-Africa Green Development Cooperation Plan, which includes 100 projects for wildlife conservation and ecological environment improvement in Africa. China has already signed cooperation agreement on wildlife protection with South Africa and Kenya. We have provided container monitoring equipment and wildlife protection equipment to Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana and other countries with important wildlife species. China has also actively carried out training programs to support African countries improve law enforcement and capacity building on wildlife conservation. Earlier this year, China and UK have jointly conducted a training program in Johannesburg on wildlife protection law enforcement. Participants include wildlife conservationists, police, customs officials, and quarantine and inspection officials from Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Angola, and Australia. The Chinese government is willing to work closely with the US, UK, France, Interpol, and other international organizations and NGOs to explore joint law enforcement on wildlife protection in South Africa and other African countries. We will make our utmost to end crimes against elephants and other endangered species.

We are very happy to see that, with our concerted and unremitting efforts, today in South Africa and Africa, we are hearing less cases of Chinese poaching elephants and rhinos, or smuggling ivory and rhino horn products. But as we move forward, it can’t be ruled out that, there will still be a number of Chinese, driven by interest, commit crimes of illegal poaching, and the smuggling of wild animals, plants, and their products. Their crimes gravely undermine the image of China and the Chinese people. But I want to assure all of you that, the Chinese government and the Chinese people will never waver and compromise our firm commitment to wildlife protection. I want to reiterate that, for the Chinese citizen, no matter whether he is in China or anywhere else, the Chinese government follows the policy of “zero tolerance” on any crimes against wildlife. We fully support South Africa and other African countries to strictly punish all these crimes according to law, and we strongly call upon judicial and law enforcement institutions of South Africa and other African countries to stop the practice of allowing criminals get off prison sentences by paying a rather small fine. We are prepared to strengthen cooperation with South African law enforcement, enhance information sharing, and jointly introduce toughest measures to punish and deter these criminal activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Poverty is the common enemy of the whole world. It is also the biggest enemy of wildlife conservation. We are extremely saddened that, in certain regions and countries in Africa, many jobless population are forced to engage in wildlife poaching only to make a living. It is true that raising awareness and enhance law enforcement is important. But for those people, what is more critical is to engage them into normal economic activity through job creation. We believe that we must address both the symptoms and root causes in wildlife conservation.

We are happy to see that under the leadership of President Ramaphosa, the ANC government is committed to attracting investment, developing the economy, creating jobs, and improving people’s livelihood. As the strongest power in Africa in overall strength, South Africa boasts unique strengths in natural resources, human resources, geographic location, and foundation for further development. We are convinced that, under the strong leadership of President Ramaphosa, South Africa will embrace new historic opportunities in economic and social transformation and development.

After 40 years of reform and opening up and rapid development, China has become the world’s second largest economy, the largest manufacturing power, the largest holder of foreign exchange reserve, and the world’s biggest market in terms of population. China not only has the comparative strengths in capital, know-how, businesses, and the market, but also has the experience of development success, and most importantly, the strongest political will to support South Africa and Africa in realizing self-sustainable development.

China has for many years remained South Africa’s and Africa’s largest trading partner and major investor and source of tourists. China-South Africa relations live up fully to the comprehensive strategic partnership. China not only has the firm political resolve, but also has the real capacity to remain South Africa’s most reliable and most robust partner for economic and social transformation and development.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of China-South Africa diplomatic ties and the centenary of Nelson Mandela. This year, South Africa will host the BRICS Summit, and China will host the 3rd FOCAC Summit in Beijing. Both of our Presidents will attend those two Summits and they will exchange state visits, jointly opening up a new chapter and planning for a new blueprint for China-South Africa friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation. We are willing to work with South African friends to seize the important historic opportunity to fully synergize our development strategies, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation across board, and inject new vigor to further boost China-South Africa comprehensive strategic partnership. We are confident that together, we can bring more benefits to the peoples of China and South Africa, and make new contribution to the cause of wildlife conservation.

To conclude, I wish this conference a complete success!

Thank you!

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