China destroyed a portion of its massive stockpile of confiscated ivory on Monday – a first for the country.

The action has left the international conservation community struggling with its own conscience. Whether to praise a monumental shift in approach to conservation by the world’s biggest consumer of the world’s wildlife or condemn the event as posture, devoid of substance and commitment? Before judging, it’s worth examining the situation in a little more detail.

It was probably no coincidence that China crushed 6.1 tonnes when, just two months earlier, the US crushed a slightly smaller amount. In the US's case it was almost its entire stockpile, while in China’s case it is a fraction: 45 tonnes were confiscated between 2009 and 2013 alone. Which raises the obvious question, why only the six tonnes? If China was serious about destroying stocks, then why not destroy it all? To some this is enough to dismiss the whole event out of hand.

But here’s the point. So much of what is written in foreign blogs and by us western conservationists fails to recognise the internal struggles in China on this issue.

The importance of the crush is not its direct impact on the market price of ivory (zero) or the safety of wild elephants in Africa tomorrow (negligible); its importance lies in it being the manifestation of a very real debate within the Chinese government on this issue.

Read Joe Walston's entire blog on The Guardian >>