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China’s “Panda Diplomacy”

The Epoch Times reported that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been using giant pandas for its diplomacy agenda. As Sino-U.S. relations have soured, China plans to take back three pandas on loan to the U.S. National Zoo at Washington, DC. by end of this year. If the Atlanta Zoo cannot renew its panda contract with Beijing by next year, then the U.S. will have no panda for the first time in 50 years.

The CCP started its “Panda Diplomacy” with the West in 1972 when it gifted two giant pandas to the U.S. following Nixon’s visit to China.

Scholar Kathleen Buckingham published a research paper in 2013 outlining three phases of the CCP’s “Panda Diplomacy.”

  • The first phase, during Mao Zedong’s era, involved gifting giant pandas purely for political purposes.
  • In the second phase, under Deng Xiaoping, panda diplomacy aligned with economic reforms, with China adopting a capitalistic model to generate revenue by leasing the pandas.
  • In The third phase, starting in 2008, the leasing model has leaned towards countries with free trade agreements and technology transfer agreements with the CCP. For instance, Australia, France, and Canada have received pandas after agreeing to sell nuclear technology and uranium to China. Scotland received a pair of pandas in 2011 as part of an agreement to share offshore drilling technology and supply salmon to China. In 2013, the Netherlands received pandas as they agreed to provide advanced medical services.

To attract attention and as a means of leverage, the CCP now requires foreign heads of state to personally request pandas before deciding whether to lease them.

The CCP has also been recalling pandas as a punitive tool. In 2010, two days after Beijing warned President Obama not to meet the Dalai Lama, China called back the first batch of panda cubs born in the Atlanta Zoo and the Washington National Zoo. Amid the tensions over the U.S.-China trade war in 2019, Beijing retrieved pandas “Bai Yun” and her cub and “Little Gift” from the San Diego Zoo. This year, due to the Netherlands’ adherence to U.S. restrictions on the sale of advanced semiconductor processing equipment to China, Beijing recalled the three-year-old panda “Fan Xing” from a Dutch zoo.

Source: Epoch Times, October 10, 2023