Outright bans, meanwhile, could force an industry underground that the government is already struggling to regulate. According to experts, much of the trade is now conducted through e-commerce, making it tough to keep tabs on, while experts have pointed out that it would theoretically be possible for wild animals to be sold at markets intended for those bred in captivity.

Also read: Australia wants G-20 scrutiny of wildlife wet markets as they’re a risk to human health

A rise in racial stereotypes

Public opinion among China’s neighbours is in favour of a clampdown. A survey by the World Wildlife Fund showed that 93% of 5,000 respondents in Hong Kong, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam supported government action to restrict unregulated markets.

But it’s important for concerns about China’s wildlife trade not to tip over into judgment or discrimination. Western media stories – not to mention some political leaders – have run the risk of propagating offensive stereotypes of Chinese people, in language reminiscent of the “Yellow Peril” hysteria that accompanied the first waves of Chinese immigration to the US. Asian people report being treated on the street as “walking pathogens”, while a Chinese travel blogger was forced to apologise after eating bat soup in a historic video that bore no relation to COVID-19.

It’s essential to remember that only a small proportion of Chinese people, many of them among the older generations, eat wild animals. Meanwhile, the use of wild animals for medicinal purposes – which draws most cultural criticism, especially from the West – is unlikely to be wiped out straight away by a simple blanket ban. Criminalizing the trade will force it where regulators cannot follow – and where unsafe practices are more likely to result in further deadly outbreaks.

This article was originally published on the World Economic Forum.

Also read: Live bird markets are back in China as Chinese like their meat freshly killed