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Panda Diplomacy

Panda diplomacy refers to the way in which the Chinese mainland conducts diplomatic work through the donation, exhibition and commercial loan and cooperative research of pandas.

The giant panda is the national treasure of China. It has been abroad many times as a friendly ambassador and made indelible contribution to the development of friendly diplomatic relations. Let’s learn the three major periods of the panda diplomacy history.

The Giant Panda Ambassadors (1957-1982)

panda diplomacy Nixon

In the 1950s, the People's Republic of China (PRC) began to implement "panda diplomacy" in the name of the government and the people. The pandas are given as gifts to countries or regions that have good relations with China and which China hopes to establish relations with.

From 1957 to 1982, the Soviet Union, north Korea, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Spain and Mexico have received 23 pandas from China successively. Among these gifts of giant pandas, “Xingxing” and “Lingling” who were given to the USA when President Nixon visited China in 1972 formed the peak of panda diplomacy as it marked some of the first cultural exchanges between the PRC and the West.

The 23 panda ambassadors received "the treatment of the head of state" in the recipient countries. E.g., after the death of one of the cubs of Lingling who was sent to America, the Swiss headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund even lowered its flag for the first time. By 1982, however, in response to the global call to protect endangered animals, PRC no longer gave panda to other countries as gifts.

The era of the giant panda as a "national gift" is over. Political giving was confined to the domestic, such as Taiwan and Hongkong.

Touring Exhibition and Commercial Loan of Giant Panda (1982-1994)

panda diplomacy exhibition

However, the panda's journey abroad has not been broken off. In 1984, the Chinese government proposed the panda loan scheme.

On the eve of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, to show China's support, China rented a pair of giant pandas from the Beijing zoo to the United States for a-three-month touring exhibition. This is the beginning of the giant panda tour abroad. In just two or three months, the U.S. zoo received $10 million in ticket revenue. Since then, the giant panda traveled to Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium and other countries for months or even a year’s tour exhibition.

Touring exhibition brought considerable economic benefits to the panda's zoo and other institutions, but it also affected the breeding and development of giant pandas to some extent.

To attract tourists, some zoos even trained pandas to perform acrobatics. In the early 1990s, a growing number of environmental groups took a boycott attitude to the commercial loan of giant pandas. The tour exhibition of giant pandas came to the end.

Cooperative Research of Giant Pandas (1994 to date)

panda diplomacy

In order to solve the problems caused by the giant pandas' going abroad and protect the giant panda better, both China Wildlife Conservation Association and Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens reached an agreement with the international animal protection agency.

The PRC can offer a pair of healthy and fertile pandas to other nations for a 10-year cooperative study on loans, under terms including a fee up to US$1,000,000 per year and a provision that any cubs born during the loan were the property of the PRC and should be sent back to China when it was two years old. Besides, the average annual rent must increase by $600,000 per year for the new panda cub. If the panda died, the body would be returned to China.

The first consideration of panda international cooperative research is the level of scientific research and the ability to breed pandas, but diplomatic relations are also very important determinants. In 1994, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding brought a pair of giant pandas to Japan and that was the beginning of the overseas cooperation research on the giant panda's.

A certain number of pandas are currently on loan outside China. But unlike the 1980s and the 1990s, the current lease is mostly a long-term loan with research and reproduction as the main purpose. Most of the pandas living overseas are descendants of those who breed in captivity, or individuals who have been kept in captivity for long periods of time. The panda loan is no longer a threat to the wild panda population, both in terms of quantity and source.