The Kimberley Process, Marange diamonds and China's exploding jewelry market

Jul 25, 2011

As with so many other developments all over the world, the explosive economic rise of China is changing everybody's calculations about seemingly everything. As the Western members of the Kimberley Process continue their fight with the Zimbabwean government about the certification of Marange diamonds, growing prosperity and consumerism in China may mean a further weakening of the KP's influence over the Mugabe government.

The western KP members maintain a 'human rights' ban on the sale of Marange diamonds should remain until the Zimbabwean government behaves in ways meeting their approval. The other KP members including China support the current Congolese KP chairman's recent statement that Zimbabwe was in compliance with the KP and could freely sell its diamonds.

One reason Zimbabwe cannot ignore the dissent of the KP members, even if it gets a disputed certificate, is the power of the Western countries as the world's biggest and most lucrative combined diamond market. If there is a sustained propaganda effort against Marange diamonds in the West, sales would be affected, as would prices of the diamonds, including outside of the western world.

 It has been taken for granted that the large quantities of Marange diamonds destined for India and China are mostly to be processed for western markets. That may still be true for the former, but decreasingly so for the latter.

As millions more Chinese assume middle class status and its consumerist wants, the market there for jewelry is growing rapidly, as the BBC feature The cost of weddings spirals in China shows.

"We went together to buy the ring on February 26th," remembers Cecilia. "It's a diamond ring and my fiancĂ© paid $3,500 (£2,150) for it. That's the average price for an engagement ring in China." 

"Ten or 15 years ago, if you asked people what diamonds were for they would tell you they were used in power tools. Now China is one of the biggest markets for diamonds - especially for engagement rings." 
All purchasers of Marange diamonds, including China and India, would prefer that they have a 'clean,' undisputed KP certification. But in its absence newly influential markets like China and India are not going to stop buying them. One of many complications for the KP is that an important member country like China in 'good' standing cannot be said to have a better human rights status than one not in good standing like Zimbabwe.

China's explosive rise is changing many age-old global power relations in unexpected ways.   


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