Panda diplomacy

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U.S. First Lady Pat Nixon viewing the Beijing Zoo panda exhibit in February 1972 PN views panda.jpg
U.S. First Lady Pat Nixon viewing the Beijing Zoo panda exhibit in February 1972

Panda diplomacy is the practice of sending giant pandas from China to other countries as a tool of diplomacy. From 1941 to 1984, China gifted pandas to other countries. After a change in policy in 1984, pandas were leased instead of gifted.


Imperial China

While there are few ancient records of the giant panda, “During the Manchu dynasty skins of this animal [bei-shung, presumed to be the panda] were sent as tribute to the government of China by the aborigines of western Szechuan and eastern Tibet,” according to David Crockett Graham, [1] :25 [2] :19

Republican Era diplomacy

Madam Chiang and John Tee-Van of the Bronx Zoo, USA, with the baby Panda in Madam Chiang's yard in Chongqing, November 9, 1941. 1941-11-09-Madam-Chiang-with-baby-Panda.jpg
Madam Chiang and John Tee-Van of the Bronx Zoo, USA, with the baby Panda in Madam Chiang’s yard in Chongqing, November 9, 1941.

The first instance of Panda Diplomacy in the modern era was arranged by Soong Mei-ling (Madame Chiang) in 1941. China was under siege by Japan, the U.S. had been sending aid to the Kuomintang (Nationalist Government) in China, and Madame Chiang wanted a dramatic way of saying thank you. There had been previous pandas sent to the U.S., including one named Su Lin sold to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago by Ruth Harkness in 1937, a second one named Mei-Mei brought back by Harkness in 1938 and also sold to the Brookfield Zoo, [3] one named Pandora sent to the Bronx Zoo by David Crockett Graham in 1938, and a second named Pan sent to the Bronx Zoo in 1939. [1] :92 Besides the two live Pandas sent to the Bronx Zoo, Graham had also collected a number of skins and skeletons that that were sent to the Smithsonian. [4] :55 In the summer of 1941, Madame Chiang enlisted David Crockett Graham to capture a live panda. Eventually, two were caught. After spending some time at Graham’s house in Chengdu, they were brought to Chungking where there was to be a radio broadcast before they were sent off to the U.S. William J. Dunn, a CBS radio reporter who happened to be in Chungking at the time, was enlisted to MC the broadcast on XGOY, “Voice of China” radio, to be carried on CBS during prime time in the U.S. [5] :59–60 Annalee Whitmore, then working as publicity manager for United China Relief, interviewed the participants and wrote the transcript. [6] :198–200 The broadcast was to include Madame Chiang, her sister Soong Ai-ling (Madame Kung), David Crockett Graham, and John Tee-Van who had just arrived from the Bronx Zoo to take the Pandas to the U.S. The broadcast was to be beamed to RCA communications in Manila and then to San Francisco. At 4am in the morning, Chungking time, in early November, 1941, they were unable to get a response from RCA and went ahead with the broadcast blind. In the end, the atmospheric conditions prevented the broadcast from going through, and the American public had to get the news from the daily press. [5] :60 The Pandas were then flown to Hong Kong under cover of night and from there to the Philippines on the Hong Kong Clipper. From there, they took a circuitous route by ship to San Francisco. Unfortunately, while they were en route, Pearl Harbor was bombed; [1] :95–97 and, when they arrived in San Francisco, front page news was all about war. While the Pandas did get attention, they weren’t the top of the news across the nation as had been hoped.

Cold War diplomacy

While the Republic of China used giant pandas for diplomatic means as early as 1941, [7] the People's Republic of China began to use panda diplomacy more prominently in the 1950s and has continued the practice into the present day. Between 1957 and 1983, 24 pandas were gifted to 9 nations as gestures of friendship. These nations included the Soviet Union, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. [8]

When President Nixon visited China in 1972, Mao Zedong promised to send two pandas to an American zoo. In exchange, Nixon gifted two musk oxen to the Chinese. The mutual gifts illustrated the growing diplomatic relationship between China and the United States at the time. [9] Despite the long history of panda diplomacy, the arrival of the pandas in 1972 marked the first time a panda had been in the United States in over twenty years. [8]

Upon the pandas' arrival in April 1972, First Lady Pat Nixon donated them to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where she welcomed them in an official ceremony. Over 20,000 people visited the pandas the first day they were on display, and an estimated 1.1 million visitors came to see them the first year they were in the United States. [10] The pandas were wildly popular and China's gift was seen as an enormous diplomatic success, evidence of China's eagerness to establish official relations with the U.S. [11] It was so successful that British Prime Minister Edward Heath asked for pandas for the United Kingdom during a visit to China in 1974. Pandas Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching arrived at the London Zoo a few weeks later. [10] The pandas gifted to the UK would later be the inspiration for the logo of the World Wildlife Fund. [8]

Lease policy

In 1984, China's leader Deng Xiaoping modified the policy, such that subsequent pandas would be leased, instead of gifted, beginning with China presenting two pandas to Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympic Games for $50,000 per month per panda. This practice was again modified in 1991 in favor of long-term leases. [12] China began to offer pandas to other nations only on ten-year lease. The standard lease terms include a fee of up to US$1 million per year and a provision that any cubs born during the lease period be the property of the People's Republic of China. Since 1998, because of a World Wildlife Fund lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows a U.S. Zoo to import a panda only if the zoo can ensure that China will channel more than half of its loan fee into conservation efforts for wild pandas and their habitat. The gifting of two pandas to Hong Kong in 2007 was ostensibly an exception to this lease model, but can be seen as outside of the spectrum of panda diplomacy. [12]

After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that severely damaged many facilities, 60 pandas required new housing. The majority were given to nations that had favorable trade agreements with China, or those that supplied China with necessary resources, such as uranium from Australia. [8]

International recognition

Other countries recognize the significance of pandas as diplomatic symbols, emblematic of the state of relations with China. During a visit by then Chinese Leader Hu Jintao to Japan in May 2008, China announced the lease of two pandas to Japan. The leader was quoted as saying "Giant pandas are very popular among the Japanese, and they are a symbol of the friendly ties between Japan and China." [13] Treatment of the pandas is likewise associated with the relevant foreign policy. For example, in 1964, British diplomats worried that a transfer of a panda from a London Zoo to Moscow would worsen Sino–Soviet relations. [14] In January 2006, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was photographed hugging a five-month-old panda cub during his visit to Sichuan. The image was widely broadcast by the Chinese media and was purportedly interpreted as a sign that Zoellick supported better relations between China and the United States. [15]

On April 16, 2014, China planned to send a pair of pandas named Fu Wa and Feng Yi to Malaysia to mark their 40-year diplomatic ties but were postponed following the MH370 tragedy. [16] The two pandas later arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on May 21, 2014, and were placed at the National Zoo of Malaysia. [17] [18]

In 2018, Finland agreed to care for two giant pandas following their endorsement of the one-China policy. [19]

Two pandas, Cai Tao and Hu Chun, arrived in Jakarta in 2017 to be placed in Taman Safari in Bogor as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of China–Indonesia relations. [20]

The most recent panda lease was on June 5, 2019, when Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping leased two giant pandas to Russia's Moscow Zoo on an official state visit as a "sign of respect and trust." The pandas include a two-year-old male Ru Yi and a one-year-old female Ding Ding. [21]

Animal health concerns

In 2003, China sent Thailand a pair of pandas, Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, to Chiang Mai Zoo. Chuang Chuang was put on a diet in 2007 due to obesity and died in September 2019 as a result of heart failure. The public started to blame this incident on China's panda diplomacy, with many arguing that sending the animals overseas and outside their endemic habitat was detrimental to their health, further exacerbating their population decline. [22] [23]

Upkeep and expense

Keeping pandas is very expensive. Beside the cost of the "rent" payable to China, obtaining enough bamboo is very expensive. A panda typically consumes only fresh bamboo, eating 40 kg of it every day. [24] It was reported in 2011 that Edinburgh Zoo spent $107,000 per year to feed its two pandas. [25] This caused the zoo to ask for bamboo donations, as well as for local gardeners to start growing bamboo. [26] During the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply of bamboo added to cost considerations. Owing to the difficulty of securing a consistent and adequate supply of fresh bamboo, Calgary Zoo opted to return their pair of pandas ahead of schedule, to join their progeny back in China. [24]

Copenhagen Zoo opened a panda enclosure in 2019 for two pandas on lease from China for 15 years with the price tag of $1 million annually. The enclosure itself cost $24 million, though it was privately funded.

Offer of pandas to Taiwan

Giant panda at the Taipei Zoo Giant Panda Taipei Zoo 20512.jpg
Giant panda at the Taipei Zoo

In 2005, Lien Chan, Chairman of the Kuomintang, the then sichuan party in Taiwan, visited mainland China. As part of the talks between Lien and the CCP, two pandas (later named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, meaning "reunion" in Chinese) were offered as a gift to the people of Taiwan.

While the idea was popular with the Taiwanese public[ citation needed ], it was opposed by the Republic of China (ROC) government of Taiwan, then led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favors Taiwanese independence and staunchly opposes unification with the People's Republic of China. The gift of pandas was seen as an attempt by the CPC to draw the ROC government into its "united front". While several zoos in Taiwan made bids to host the pandas, the ROC government raised objections, ostensibly on the grounds that pandas were not suited to the Taiwanese climate and that Taiwan did not have the expertise to rear pandas successfully. It was widely understood, however, that these were pretexts underlaid by political considerations by the DPP-led government to maintain its distance from the PRC government. [27] Another technical issue is a dispute over the applicability of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). In 1998, China offered the Republic of China two giant pandas in exchange for wartime peace. The PRC insisted that a transfer from mainland China to Taiwan was a domestic transfer, not subject to CITES, while the ROC government disputed this and would not accept the pandas without CITES procedures. [28] On March 11, 2006, the ROC formally rejected the offer, with President Chen Shui-bian explaining in his weekly newsletter, "A-bian (Chen's nickname) sincerely urges the Chinese leaders to leave the giant pandas in their natural habitat, because pandas brought up in cages or given as gifts will not be happy." [28]

Following a change of government in Taiwan, in July 2008, the ROC government led by the Kuomintang stated that it would accept the gift of two four-year-old giant pandas. [29] In December 2008, the government approved the import of pandas under the terms of "species of traditional herbal medicine." [30] Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan arrived at Taipei Zoo later in the same month.

In response to the transfer, the CITES Secretariat stated that the transfer of the two pandas was a matter of "internal or domestic trade", and so was not required to be reported to CITES. [31] The ROC quickly issued a rebuttal to the CITES statement and insisted that the country-to-country transfer protocols were respected. The ROC also noted that such procedures would not have been needed if it had been an internal/domestic transfer. [32] The ROC further noted that Taiwan is not a CITES signatory and is therefore not obligated to report to the CITES Secretariat its acceptance of the two pandas. [33]

Other animals as diplomatic gifts

Internationally, other rare animals appear as diplomatic/political gifts as well. For example, in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, five Chinese sturgeons, symbolising the five Olympic rings, were given by China's Central Government to Hong Kong. [34]

In 2009, the government of the Seychelles Islands announced its gift of a pair of Aldabra giant tortoises to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, and in appreciation of China assisting the small insular nation with the expenses of participating in the Expo. The two tortoises will be actually kept in Shanghai Zoo. [35]

In response to China's panda diplomacy, French President Emmanuel Macron gifted Xi Jinping one of France's elite cavalry corps’ horses. [36]

The government of Mongolia has a practice of gifting horses to visiting dignitaries. Recipients include President of South Korea Park Geun-hye, [37] Vice President of India Mohammad Hamid Ansari, [38] Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, [39] and the United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. [40] A horse was also given by Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga to Barron Trump, the youngest son of U.S. President Donald Trump. [41] Trump named the horse, "Victory". [42]

The Philippines plans to loan a pair of Philippine eagles to Singapore in 2019 for ten years as an effort to boost ties between the two countries. The Philippine government also considers the move as an "insurance policy" in a bid to protect the endangered species' population in the event an avian outbreak wipes out the indigenous population in the Philippines. [43]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Giant panda</span> Species of bear

The giant panda, also known as the panda bear, is a bear species endemic to China. It is characterised by its bold black-and-white coat and rotund body. The name "giant panda" is sometimes used to distinguish it from the red panda, a neighboring musteloid. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the giant panda is a folivore, with bamboo shoots and leaves making up more than 99% of its diet. Giant pandas in the wild occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents, or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taiwan</span> Country in East Asia

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia, at the junction of the East and South China Seas in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, with the People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the south. The territories controlled by the ROC consist of 168 islands, with a combined area of 36,193 square kilometres (13,974 sq mi). The main island of Taiwan, also known as Formosa, has an area of 35,808 square kilometres (13,826 sq mi), with mountain ranges dominating the eastern two-thirds and plains in the western third, where its highly urbanised population is concentrated. The capital, Taipei, forms along with New Taipei City and Keelung the largest metropolitan area of Taiwan. Other major cities include Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, and Taoyuan. With around 23.9 million inhabitants, Taiwan is among the most densely populated countries in the world.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taiwan independence movement</span> Political movement

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chinese unification</span> Potential union of Mainland China/Taiwan

Chinese unification, also known as the Cross-Strait unification or Chinese reunification, is the potential unification of territories currently controlled, or claimed, by the People's Republic of China ("China") and the Republic of China ("Taiwan") under one political entity, possibly the formation of a political union between the two republics. Together with full Taiwan independence, unification is one of the main proposals to address questions on the political status of Taiwan, which is a central focus of Cross-Strait relations.

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Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing Pandas given to the US by China after Nixons 1972 visit

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ling Ling (giant panda)</span>

Ling Ling was a male Chinese-born giant panda who resided at the Ueno Zoo, the largest zoo in Tokyo, Japan. At the time of his death at the age of 22, Ling Ling was the only giant panda at the Ueno Zoo and the oldest panda in Japan. He served as an important symbol of the Ueno Zoo and of friendship between Japan and China. Ling Ling, who was given to Japan in 1992, was the only giant panda in the country who was directly owned by Japan. There are eight other giant pandas in Japan as of April 2008, but they are all on loan to Japan from China. Despite being a male panda, Ling Ling's name meant "darling little girl" in Chinese.

Chi Chi (giant panda)

Chi Chi was a well-known female giant panda at London Zoo in England.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan are two giant pandas that were sent by the People's Republic of China to Taiwan in 2008 as part of an exchange program. The exchange idea was first proposed in 2005, but the previous administration in Taiwan had refused to accept the pandas. After elections that resulted in a change of presidents in 2008, the Taiwanese government accepted the pandas, and they arrived on December 23, 2008. The two names were selected by a vote in the PRC and their combination, Tuan Yuan, means "reunion" in Chinese. The pandas are housed at Taipei Zoo and have been exhibited to the public since the 2009 Chinese New Year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lin Bing</span>

Lin Bing, is a female giant panda in Thailand. Born on 27 May 2009 at Chiang Mai Zoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand by Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) to Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang, it is the first giant panda born in Thailand. Its name, meaning the "Forest of Ice," was chosen after a nationwide name selection contest that attracted 22 million votes. "Bing" also sounds similar to the name of the Ping River, which flows through Northern Thailand, where the zoo is located.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui</span>

Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui are two giant pandas from Sichuan, China on loan to Chiang Mai Zoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

As of 2019, there are 26 zoos in 20 countries outside of mainland China that have giant pandas. These zoos have contracts with China to house these pandas for a few years. An exception are the four pandas held at Taipei Zoo, which are owned by the Taiwanese government. Giant pandas are on the IUCN Red List so part of the reason these contracts exist between China and international zoos is to try to help the species reproduce before they are brought back to their native land. For this reason, pandas are treated very well.

Kang Kang was a male giant panda born in China in 1970. Along with Lan Lan, they were the first pair of giant pandas at the Ueno Zoo, gifted to Japan by China after the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Lan Lan was a female giant panda born in China. Along with Kang Kang, they were the first pair of giant pandas at the Ueno Zoo, gifted to Japan by China after the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Pan Dah, also spelled Pan-dah, was a female giant panda captured in Western China and settled in New York's Bronx Zoo.

Pan Dee was a female giant panda born around September 1940 in China and settled in Bronx Zoo of New York.


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