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Panda Diplomacy

by on February 15, 2014

Nearly everyone loves pandas. They are cute and fluffy. What is more they have become a global symbol of international friendship since the People’s Republic of China first began sending them as gifts to foreign powers in 1950’s. Today these bears represent more an economic and political diplomacy tool (Jordan, 2014).panda1

The history of the Panda Diplomacy can be tracked back more than 1,000 years ago. It first existed during the Tang Dynasty. Empress Wu Zetian was the first to send a pair pandas to the Japanese emperor in 658 AD. Since then pandas have become a global symbol of international friendship. Panda diplomacy has gone through three stages (China Daily, 2013).

The first stage dates from 1957 to 1982. In 1957, a giant panda was sent to the Soviet Union as a symbolic gesture of ‘thank you’ for recognizing the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Soviet Union was the first country that established diplomatic relations with China (China Daily, 2013).

After China launched the successful Ping-Pong diplomacy towards the U.S, Panda diplomacy followed. After U.S President’s Nixon first visit to China in February 1972, two pandas were sent to Washington D.C. These two pandas are considered to be a symbol of normalized US-China diplomatic relations (China Daily, 2013). Therefore the first stage of the Panda Diplomacy can also be described as a phase during which China built strategic friendships (Jacobs, 2013).

Second stage of Panda Diplomacy dates from 1982. In 1982 China had to stop giving pandas away as a gifts due to the decreasing numbers of these animals in their country. The method was replaced in 1990’s by renewable loans for a period of 10 years. From 1994 the loans shifted to an emphasis on partnership of scientific studies to protect this endangered species (China Daily, 2013). Therefore the second stage is represented by the gifts which became gift loans involving a capitalist lease model based on financial transactions (Jacobs, 2013). Currently the cost of renting a panda is $1,000,000 per year, to be payable to China’s Wildlife Conservation Association. In addition, the lease agreement requires that any cubs born to loaned pandas have to be returned to China (Now I know, 2013).panda2

The emerging third stage of the Panda diplomacy is associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and technology. This stage also symbolizes China’s willingness to build trade relationships (Jacobs, 2013). Recently, Toronto Zoo welcomed two giant pandas on March 25th 2013 (McCutcheon, 2013). In return Canada signed a multibillion dollar deals to export large quantities of Uranium to China (Jacobs, 2013). Another deal was negotiated with Scotland. While Edinburgh Zoo received two giant pandas, China will be supplied with salmon meat, Land Rover cars, renewable energy technology; $4 billion contract (Jacobs, 2013).

Interestingly, what China gives can easily be taken back. Early in 2013 Chinese government threatened not to sign a new panda lease deal if the Austrian government did not cancel a scheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama (Jacobs, 2013).

China also loaned pandas to Taiwan in 2008. The two pandas made public appearance during the Chinese New Year in 2009. Such created sensation among people and generated much needed goodwill across the Taiwan Strait. Another country was Australia in 2009. Pandas were loaned for ten years as a lasting reminder of the warm relations between Australia and China (Zhu, 2013, 41). Japan also received two pandas from China in 2011. Both countries stated that they hoped the loan would improve relations soured by a sovereignty disupte over islands (Hogenboom, 2013).panda3

If you now wonder how pandas travel from China across the globe, the answer is simple, FedEx. FedEx has even branded its service FedEx Panda Express. The company also specially designed its planes which are used for the transport of pandas (McCutcheon, 2013).

Panda diplomacy has changed over the time. China is now interested in having a soft power influence gained from loaning pandas. It is no longer just about conservation, panda diplomacy has become increasingly bound up with political and economic ambitions (Hogenboom, 2013).


China Daily (1981), ‘Beyond panda diplomacy’, December 5th, 2013. – accessed on 14/02/2014

Now I know (2010), ‘Panda Diplomacy’, August 27th, 2013, – accessed on 14/02/2014

McCutcheon, K. (2013), ‘The FedEx Panda Express – China to Canada’, FedEx, March 25th 2013, – accessed on 14/02/2014

Jacobs, H. (2013), ‘China’s Panda Diplomacy Has Entered A Lucrative New Phase’, Business Insider, November 4th, 2013. – accessed on 14/02/2014

Jordan, R. (2014), ‘Chinese panda makes US public debut’, Aljazeera, January 18th, 2014. – accessed on 14/02/2014

Zhu, Z. (2013), ‘China’s New Diplomacy, Rationale, Strategies and Significance’, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Surrey, – accessed on 14/02/2014

Hogenboom, M. (2013), ‘China’s new phase of panda diplomacy’, BBC, September 25th, 2013. – accessed on 14/02/2014

Video and pictures: – accessed pm 14/02/2014…32.1542.0.1667.….0…1ac.1.35.img..15.0.0.x98oy-rDhPE#facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 14/02/2014…32.1542.0.1667.….0…1ac.1.35.img..15.0.0.x98oy-rDhPE#hl=en&q=panda+diplomacy&tbm=isch&facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 14/02/2014…32.1542.0.1667.….0…1ac.1.35.img..15.0.0.x98oy-rDhPE#hl=en&q=panda+diplomacy&tbm=isch&facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 14/02/2014



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  1. pms0049 permalink

    I am the first person to say that I love pandas due to their cuteness and fluffiness. I think that the strategy of China giving pandas as gifts to other countries as a symbolic gesture, after the establishment of good relations, can be said to increase the ‘likeability’ and positive image of itself in the eyes of that countries’ population. However the post says that the ‘second wave’ of China’s panda diplomacy involved the ‘renting’ of pandas to other countries for fixed periods of time. Surely this is just a way for China’s Wildlife Conservation Association to make large amounts of money out of other countries, rather than the establishment of good diplomatic relations with them. Additionally, is it right for Western European governments to say that they have good diplomatic relations with China and accept their Panda’s as gifts (such as the UK did when two pandas were given to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011), when many in those countries have expressed doubts about China’s human rights record. These doubts include the lack of democracy and the suppression of protest movements including the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989. Perhaps western governments should give back these cuddly gifts to China’s not-so-cuddly government.

  2. lir0131 permalink

    Interesting and well-structured article, describing the detailed history of Panda Diplomacy and its stages. Of course, Panda Diplomacy can be seen as an ingenious and cute tool of building friendships with other countries, but, in my opinion, considering Panda Diplomacy, first of all, we should take into account pandas’ uniqueness and rareness, low reproduction and the fact that these animals suffer outside their natural habitat. Thus the actual question here is whether such movements and exchanges of these animals can harm and put their existence at risk?

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