President Xi Jinping indicated that China will renew its “Panda Diplomacy” with the U.S. by once again sending the bears to American zoos, signaling his intent to stabilize relations between the world’s two largest economies.
“Pandas have long been envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples,” Xi said during a dinner with business executives on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco on Wednesday. “We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen friendly ties between our peoples.”
Xi’s remarks came hours after he emerged from his first meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in a year. The two hashed out a handful of small victories, including deals to try to address the fentanyl crisis and to restore military communications severed after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year.
The potential new cooperation on pandas comes as the U.S. faces the prospect of losing all of its bears by the end of next year as current loan agreements expire. China hadn’t explained why its wildlife agency had not signed new deals with American zoos, but the handover came amid increased tensions with Washington.
Most recently, officials at Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo returned its three giant pandas, Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji, the first time the zoo was left without a single panda since 1972. That year, the zoo received a pair of the creatures as a gift from Beijing marking President Richard Nixon’s visit to China, which laid the groundwork for normalizing relations between the countries.
“I was told that many American people — especially children — were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas and went to the zoo to see them off,” Xi said in reference to the return of those animals. “I also learned the San Diego Zoo and the Californians very much look forward to welcoming pandas back.”
San Diego’s last pandas returned to China in 2018 and 2019 after their loan agreements expired. Zoo Atlanta is now the only place in the U.S. that keeps pandas, but those, too, are scheduled to go home next year.
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