Peter Li

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China’s policy-making remains a top-down process. Yet, non-State actors, particularly businesses that have aligned their commercial interest with the national interest and political objectives of the Party-State, are uniquely positioned to impact policy-making. This article uses China’s reopening of the wildlife trade following the end of SARS in 2003 to shed light on the interplay of the Party’s policy guidelines, the policy-making authority of the administrative agencies, and the influence of the country’s wildlife business interest. This article argues that the reversal of the wildlife trade ban was predestined since expanding wildlife business also contributed to the government’s development objectives and served the bureaucratic interest of the administrative authorities. In 2003, wildlife businesses had unique lobbying power. The industry was claimed to serve the country’s conservation, public health and poverty-reduction purposes. At the same time, Chinese scientists failed to reach a consensus on the risk of pandemic outbreaks from wildlife operations. The current outbreak of COVID-19 has led to an enhanced understanding of the connections between wildlife exploitation and pandemic outbreaks. China has come to a crossroads as it re-evaluates the cost-effectiveness of its wildlife industry.