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tusksPatrick Bergin, the CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation, is heading to China to begin a series of talks aimed at improving China-Africa relations.

Bergin discussed the AWF’s mission in a recent interview with Saving the Wild:

“The reason we’re going to China is because AWF and the Aspen Institute are driving a China-Africa dialogue on sustainability and wildlife. This is our first time getting together a group of influential Chinese, and we’ll be holding two sessions; one in Beijing and one in Tianjin. The objective is that this will become a two-year policy dialogue, with the Chinese coming to Africa twice, and then eventually becoming advocates in the realms of their own society and governments.”

This initial round of talks will be what Bergin terms a “Track II dialogue.” Whereas government-to-government dialogues (Track I) require a lot of public posturing on the politicians’ parts, a Track II dialogue with influential business members can be more honest, more pointed and, ultimately, more beneficial for Chinese policy.

In the case of sensitive intercontinental issues, such as Chinese demand for ivory driving up the rate of poaching in Africa, dialogues such as the ones Bergin hopes to initiate can open the eyes of business leaders and potentially make them realize, “this isn’t good for long term sustainability of trade relations between African and China.”

Though licensed stores may buy and sell ivory in China, the trade is banned most everywhere else in the world. This has driven up the price of raw ivory and attracted more organized crime to Africa, which is leading to the widespread killing of elephants throughout the continent.

As of now, no one is talking about closing down China’s ivory carving factories, but if China wishes to invest in Africa’s development and resources, the issue of elephant poaching needs to be addressed by the two countries. The international hunger for ivory has significantly affected the African tourism industry and fueled intercontinental conflict.

Bergin explains that the heads of Africa are reluctant to speak openly about this conflict of interest with China because they need Chinese investment. If the United States were to make a case against Chinese ivory, progress might follow.

“I think everybody needs to make a big deal of this,” Bergin continued. “There has been a drumbeat of activity in the West, and I do think the U.S. has shown leadership on the illegal wildlife trade…and, in my mind, the center of gravity and influence now needs to move East. Why don’t we invite China to host the next big illegal wildlife trafficking symposium?

“And in doing so, put the onus on China to clean house so that they can host the conference with pride.”

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