This brings to an end a half-century-old agreement. In 1972, Beijing sent the first pandas to DC—the birth of so-called panda diplomacy. Beloved by all, the animals became a symbol of harmony, understanding – relaxation between China and the West.
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Experts see the panda withdrawal as a sign, a signal from the government in Beijing. Dennis Wilder of Georgetown University in Washington told the AP news agency: “The Chinese are angry with us right now. They are angry about the (…) sanctions that the Biden administration has imposed on the Chinese and the problems the Chinese are in now. They have to get visas to the United States.”
So it’s entirely possible that China is trying to send a signal, Wilder said. The pandas will not be brought back from zoos in Doha or Thailand – but they will be brought back from zoos in the US.
Beijing is silent about the possible end of panda deaths in US zoos
What does Beijing say? As is often the case, a lot and really nothing. “Giant pandas are not only China’s national treasures, but ambassadors of friendship admired by people around the world (…).”
We stand ready to continue our work with partners, including the United States, to enhance cooperation in protecting endangered species.
A spokesman for the US State Department did not say why longtime “ambassadors of friendship” were being withdrawn from the US. If Washington loses the pandas, Zoo Atlanta in the US will have more giant pandas on display. The Chinese “credit period” ends at the end of next year.
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China lends pandas to zoos around the world
China maintains panda diplomatic relations with many countries. Berlin Zoo in Germany has animal ambassadors – including their offspring. Formally, the loans are for so-called “cooperative research projects” aimed at protecting endangered species.
Since the mid-1990s, Beijing has become increasingly expensive for valuable animals. It is said to cost one million US dollars a year per couple, but there are no exact figures. But it’s about more than research and money. Pandas are a magnet for visitors everywhere — and they’ve long been political, too.
In China they are considered a national symbol of friendship, peace and happiness – the People’s Republic of China now wants to phase out all ambassadors promoting this friendship from the US.
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