Panda diplomacy has been a long-standing tradition of the Chinese government, often used to build friendly relationships with other countries. President Xi Jinping of China recently hinted that the United States may be in the running to receive more pandas from his country. The idea of continuing this longstanding practice of panda diplomacy comes at a time where US-China relations have been strained over trade. President Xi said that his country “is willing to work with the United States to keep promoting the growth of China-U.S. ties featuring coordination, cooperation and stability.” He added that, “We stand ready to strengthen communication and exchanges at all levels and in various areas with the United States, including over the issue of giant pandas, to grow our friendship.”
The practice of sending pandas to other countries as a symbol of friendship and goodwill is believed to have started in the 7th century, during the Tang Dynasty. The first modern instance of panda diplomacy dates back to the 1950s, when then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai presented two pandas to the Soviet Union as a gesture of friendship. China has since gifted pandas to countries including the United States, Japan, and Singapore.
When China sends pandas to other countries, it contains more than just goodwill. Generally speaking, it comes with a loan contract in which the country must provide funds or labor for conservation efforts. Also, the pandas sent abroad usually remain the property of China. If the recipient country wishes to keep the pandas longer, they must pay additional funds to China.
The potential of panda diplomacy continues as President Xi’s statement encourages friendly relations with the United States. It remains to be seen what the potential outcome of such a diplomatic gesture would be, but it is clear that China is taking a positive step forward in developing a better, more collaborative relationship with its partner countries.