Chinese President Xi Jinping suggested China plans to send new pandas to the U.S., calling the black and white bears the “envoys of friendship” between the two countries, just days after three of the final seven pandas in the U.S. were sent back to China—possibly relaunching decades of “panda diplomacy.”
Xi reportedly told business leaders at a San Francisco dinner on Wednesday he heard the American people, particularly children, were “really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas,” adding that the Chinese government is ready to “continue our cooperation” with the U.S. regarding panda conversation.
The Chinese president reportedly said he learned the Californians “very much look forward to welcoming pandas back” after the San Diego Zoo returned its last panda to China in 2019, and implied they may be sent to San Diego, but Xi didn’t explicitly say where the pandas could be sent upon their potential return.
The announcement came hours after Xi and President Joe Biden met in person for the first time in a year in San Francisco.
What We Don’t Know
It’s unclear when the pandas might be sent to the U.S. and how many pandas China could send.
Beijing first sent pandas to the U.S. in 1972, following President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, launching decades of “panda diplomacy” between the two nations. Pandas are native to China, and the Chinese government has frequently lent the animals to zoos in countries where it hopes to improve diplomatic ties. In recent years, many of the pandas housed in the U.S. have been sent back to China, including pandas at zoos in San Diego and Memphis. Last week, the three pandas housed at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., were returned to China. All four pandas at the Atlanta Zoo will be sent back to China in 2024, the zoo said. Once those four are sent back, there will be no more pandas in the U.S.
It’s not just the U.S. that is losing its panda. Loan agreements in Australia and the U.K. are also expected to end in the next year, according to the Washington Post.
National Zoo Pandas Leaving D.C. For China—Ending A Program Nixon Started 51 Years Ago (Forbes)