China proven wrong over its CITES denial of tiger bone wine trade from North Korea

China’s claims at an international meeting that trade in tiger bone wine from North Korea was “not true” have been proven false.

When the poaching and trade crisis threatening the future of wild tigers and other big cats came up at the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) last year, we were disappointed that the delegation from China chose to focus its efforts on criticising a crucial report on the trade rather than recognising the urgency of the issue and engaging with discussions on action to save tigers.

The 153-page report, written by an independent expert, looked into the global response to trade in Asian big cats, areas of concern and actions needed to tackle the threat. Among areas it highlighted were China’s policies allowing legal trade in the parts and products of Asian big cats, despite their protected status, and the widespread availability of illegal tiger products on social media in China.

Tiger wine imported from North Korea to China

China’s representatives attempted to have all reference to the report – which was to be the basis for urgently needed recommendations – removed from discussions and CITES documents, claiming it contained inaccuracies.

Specifically, they claimed any reference to illegal trade in tiger bone wine from North Korea to China was “not true”, even though the product in question was being offered for sale online in China.

However, a series of news reports from Chinese Customs agencies in recent weeks have detailed the seizure of at least 107 bottles of tiger bone wine at the China-North Korea border, found in the luggage of tourists returning from North Korea.

These seizures represent an important first step in tackling this trade, which is symptomatic of a trend of so-called ‘wildlife trade tourism’ in which Chinese tourists travelling to neighbouring countries such as North Korea, Myanmar and Laos – where laws and enforcement around wildlife trade may be weaker – purchase illegal wildlife products, often smuggling them back into China.

The seizures also disprove the claims of the Chinese delegation at CITES that information in the report was inaccurate.

It is most unfortunate that China’s complaints about the CITES report resulted in a delay to the process to draw up urgently needed recommendations to tackle illegal trade in tigers and other Asian big cats. No country-specific recommendations were put forward at that meeting; instead, due to China’s complaints, Parties were given an opportunity to submit further information on any ‘inaccuracies’ in the report. No such inaccuracies were subsequently brought to the attention of the Secretariat.

Aron White, Wildlife Campaigner, said: “We sincerely hope that all Parties attending the upcoming 18th Conference at the Parties will be willing to engage constructively in discussions on actions that are sorely needed to save the world’s big cats.

“Fortunately, they will have an opportunity to do so, as India – home to more wild tigers than any other country – has put forward a suite of recommendations which lay out concrete steps for countries affected by illegal tiger trade, including closing domestic markets and tackling tiger farms.”