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China Panda Diplomacy

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Why is panda diplomacy good? What is panda diplomacy? Why is panda diplomacy bad?

At We Love Panda we are fans of pandas, but also of history, so it's only natural that we wanted to talk to you about panda diplomacy.

You will see in this article:
•    What is Panda Diplomacy?
•    The Evolution of Panda Diplomacy throughout History
•    Panda diplomacy today with countries allied with the Chinese Government

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I- What is panda diplomacy?

•    Panda diplomacy definition :

This beautiful formula refers above all to a reality of Chinese foreign policy. Panda diplomacy is an ancestral Chinese practice which consists of offering a giant panda as a gift 🎁 to a foreign country. For several decades, China has used pandas to symbolize its ties with allied countries. Let us take a closer look at how panda diplomacy works.

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•    Why the panda?

In China, this endangered species is a national treasure. The panda is a carnivorous bear turned vegetarian, it has the strength of a bear but only attacks when it feels endangered. It is placid and peaceful innately. Thus, the panda is a strong symbol of peace and serenity. It is moreover the physical incarnation of yin and yang, so it has a strong symbolic value in China. 🇨🇳 When the Chinese President Xi Jinping decide to lend a panda, it is a mark of trust and friendship towards the country that welcomes them.

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For the Chinese it is also a way to share part of their culture and traditions. The panda shows the world a friendly face of China, and encourages diplomatic ties and commercial partnerships. 🤝

II- Panda Diplomacy History

China's political situation has evolved over the centuries to become what it is today. And the way it conducts panda diplomacy has also changed.

A- Panda diplomacy, an ancient custom

This practice is not new. Since the 7th century and the Tang Dynasty, China has used Giant Pandas as a gift to start or maintain international relations. Empress Wu Zetian was one of the first to grant such a gift to the Japanese Empire 🇯🇵 at that time.

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B- Panda diplomacy in the 20th century

    Chiang Kai-shek, Panda diplomacy

Panda diplomacy began in 1941, when the wife of Prime Minister Chiang Kai-shek offered a couple of pandas to the United States as a token of appreciation for their support in the war against Japan during the World War II. In total, Chiang Kai-shek offered 14 black-and-white ursidae to West American heads of state.

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•    Mao Zedong the Great Helmsman and Panda Diplomacy

Then the Communist Party came to power. The country closed down and the panda was reserved for the closest allies of the People's Republic of China, the Soviet Union and North Korea. So, it was under Mao Zedong that the giant pandas became diplomats in their own right.

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C- Panda diplomacy nowadays

Although Mao revived panda diplomacy in the 1949 (proclamation of the Chinese Communist Party), China changed its system. His successor, Deng Xiaoping loaned these animals in return for financial compensation. The loan period for herbivorous ursidae is usually 10 to 15 years.

These loans symbolize the good understanding between the two nations, and are always important events. Between 1958 and 1982, Chinese government gave 24 pandas to 10 different countries (Russia, North Korea, USA, Japan, Mongolia, France, England, Mexico, Spain, Germany).

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III- China's panda diplomacy explained

The Panda is not only an adorable Black and White Plush, it is also a real asset for Chinese soft power.

•    Panda diplomacy meaning

On another level, the Panda is also contributing to the expansion of Chinese Soft Power. That is, the power to convince without force. This big cat gives a reassuring image of China and sticks to the peaceful doctrine put forward by the previous Chinese president. Even the names of the Pandas are not insignificant. For example, the two pandas sent to Japan called Ping Ping and An An, which means “peace”.

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•    Panda Diplomacy and China's Environmental Image

China has been seeking to improve its environmental image for years. Panda diplomacy supports Chinese interests and has a positive impact on the protection of pandas.

China's efforts for the conservation of this species are real and encouraged by the panda's popularity abroad. The money raised from panda rentals is earmarked for conservation.

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With the creation of new nature reserves 🌱, reforestation programs and the fight against poaching, China's efforts are effective. In 2016, IUCN changed the status of the panda from 'endangered' to 'vulnerable'. But these efforts have limits, as the Pandas' natural habitat remains under threat. 😔

IV- Diplomacy between China and its allies

A study shows the links between the arrival of pandas 🐼 and the signing of major commercial contracts. For example, between China and Canada, France, Scotland and Australia, as well as free trade agreements with Asian countries. Let us take a closer look.

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•    Panda diplomacy Japan

According to the archives, Tang Wu Zetian, empress of the Tang Dynasty, offered two pandas to the Japanese emperor as a sign of friendship. This is the first reported case of a Giant Panda used as a diplomatic gift.

Almost thirteen centuries later and several sino japanese wars ⚔️, Japan once again welcomes pandas Japan once again welcomes pandas. In September 1972, the Japanese Prime Minister visited China to sign a diplomatic relations agreement. After the ceremony, the Chinese Prime Minister presented two pandas to Japan for the Chinese people. During the first seven years, some 32 million visitors came to see the two pandas.🤳

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The names of the pandas chosen by China, whether to begin, resume, improve or celebrate relations, are not accidental. The ideograms used can mean, for example, “peace”, “beginning”, “flourishing”. It is not surprising that a poor choice of name would provoke a diplomatic crisis. Like the former governor of Tokyo, in 2012, who proposed the ideograms of the Senkaku Islands for the baby panda  at Uneo Zoo. The Senkaku Islands are indeed a sensitive issue between China and Japan.

•    Panda diplomacy Russia

In 1957, Mao Tse-Tung's China offers Nikita Khrushchev's Russia 🇷🇺 a panda. Offered to the citizens of Moscow by the mayor of Beijing at the time, it was the first diplomatic gift of the modern era. A second male, An An, joined him on August 18, 1959. It was not until 2001 that pandas were seen again in Moscow, during the cultural festival dedicated to the Chinese capital.

In April 2019, the Moscow Zoo received a couple of pandas from China. At the beginning of June, Vladimir Putin inaugurated with Xi Jinping the pandas house of the Moscow Zoo. Putin sees this gesture as a sign of special respect for Russia.

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•    Panda diplomacy US

In 1972, Richard Nixon was the first U.S. president to pay an official visit to China. To help normalize relations between the two countries, Mao offered Washington two giant pandas. It is a reversal of alliance, China moves away from the USSR to get closer to the United States 🇺🇸.

In 2010, China had requested the repatriation of the pandas from the Washington Zoo, after the meeting between Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama.

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•    Panda diplomacy Canada

In Canada, the pandas Er Shun and Da Mao, arriving in 2014, were to stay 5 years at the Toronto Zoo and then 5 years at the Calgary Zoo. These pandas were a living reminder of the deep friendship between China and Canada. This panda diplomacy was preceded by the signing between the two countries of various trade agreements for a total amount of nearly 3 billion dollars. These contracts concern in particular the airline industry, the railway sector and the raw materials sector.

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The two giant pandas were to remain in Canada until 2023 under a ten-year agreement with China. But, due to the COVID-19 and a shortage of bamboo, Canada had to send them back to their country. Both animals are usually fed with bamboo imported directly from China to provide them with the best possible nutrition.

Due to the interruption of many flights and supply delays, the Calgary Zoo no longer has enough plants for Er Shun and Da Mao. The site says it did not want to wait for the shortage before sending the pandas home, fearing that stocks will continue to dwindle because of a second wave of Covid-19.

•    Panda diplomacy France

In 1973, one year after the panda was donated to the United States. Two pandas arrived in France, and are in the Vincennes zoo in Paris.

When a zoo wants to loan a panda, the process is complicated. The team at Beauval Zoo (France) had to go out of its way for six years to welcome a couple of pandas to its zoo in 2012.

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The panda is a symbol of peace and trust between two countries. So much so that progress has varied according to Sino-French relations. France finally obtained a couple of pandas in 2012. But only after having sealed a 20 billion euro trade agreement with China about the country's supply of Uranium.

•    Panda diplomacy Taiwan

The strong symbolism of the national treasure makes it particularly problematic to entrust it to territories such as Taiwan. Seen as a rebel province by Beijing, Taiwan is a state that does not recognize the authority of the Chinese communist regime. The Chinese regime thought it could soften the island by offering it two pandas in 2006.

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Wrongly: the local government refused the gift 🙅‍♂‍, fearing tacitly recognizing Taiwan's membership of the People's Republic, especially as the ideograms making up the names of the animals chosen this time around mean “reunion”, which is nevertheless close to “reunification”... The arrival in power of the nationalist Kuomin tang party unblocked the situation in 2008. And the bears settled in Taipei - but the subject remains strong in tension.

•    Panda diplomacy Germany

The two new ursidae are in the Berlin Zoo. A way for China to cultivate its relations with Europe. China is benefiting from the dissensions between Europe and the United States, and is moving closer to the Old Continent.

There is a link between the panda loan to Germany and the G20 summit. China likes the symbol to stage its diplomatic relations, and to do so, what better than a picture with pandas! With this rapprochement with Germany, China wants to develop the Sino-German relationship. Because, with Brexit, the role of the United Kingdom, will diminish in Europe, and Germany is so destined to become an even more important player in the EU.

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Join the panda bear family!

So, you get it. The panda is a diplomatic asset for China.

But then why not use panda diplomacy as a birthday present? What if you show your deep friendship to your friend by making him a panda teddy bear or a panda diplomacy clothing? Does the idea appeal to you? Come and take a look at our panda plush collection!

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