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Pat Nixon viewing the panda exhibit in 1972.
Panda Diplomacy is a term used to describe Chinamarker's use of Giant Pandas as diplomatic gifts to other countries. The practice existed as far back as the Tang Dynasty, when Empress Wu Zetian (625 – 705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanesemarker emperor.

Pandas in Chinese politics

The People's Republic of China revived panda diplomacy in the 1950s and has become known in recent decades for this practice. From 1958 to 1982, China gave 23 pandas to nine different countries.One highlight of panda diplomacy was Chairman Mao Zedong's gift of two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to U.S. president Richard Nixon in 1972 after Nixon's historic visit to China. (Nixon responded by sending back a pair of musk oxen.) 20,000 people visited the pandas the first day they were on display at the National Zoomarker in Washington, D.C.marker An estimated 1.1 million visitors also came to see them the first year they were in the United States, although Nixon himself reportedly never visited them. The pandas proved to be wildly popular and China's gift was seen as an enormous diplomatic success. It proved to be so successful that British Prime Minister Edward Heath asked for pandas for the United Kingdommarker during a visit to China in 1974. As a result, Chia-Chia and Ching-Ching arrived at the London Zoomarker a few weeks later.

By the year 1984, however, pandas were no longer used purely as agents of diplomacy. Instead, China began to offer pandas to other nations only on 10-year loans. The standard loan terms include a fee of up to US$ 1,000,000 per year and a provision that any cubs born during the loan are the property of the People's Republic of China. Since 1998, due to a WWF lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only allows a U.S. zoo to import a panda if the zoo can ensure that China will channel more than half of its loan fee into conservation efforts for wild pandas and their habitat.

Pandas have become important diplomatic symbols; not only to China. In a visit by Hu Jintao to Japan in May 2008, China announced the loan of two Pandas to Japan. The President was quoted as saying "Giant pandas are very popular among the Japanese, and they are a symbol of the friendly ties between Japan and China." Actions that other countries take with pandas are often seen as laden with meaning. For example, British diplomats worried that a 1964 transfer of a panda from a London zoo to Moscow would worsen Sino-Soviet relations. In January 2006, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was photographed hugging a 5-month-old panda cub during his visit to Sichuanmarker Province. The image was widely broadcast by the Chinese media and was purportedly interpreted as a sign that Zoellick supported better relations between China and the United States.

Offer of pandas to Taiwan

In 2005, Lien Chan, chairman of the Kuomintang, the then-opposition party in Taiwanmarker, visited mainland China. As part of the talks between Lien Chan and the Communist Party of China (CPC), two pandas (later named Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan) were offered as a gift to the people of Taiwan.

While the idea was popular with the Taiwanese public, it proved difficult with the Republic of Chinamarker (ROC) government of Taiwan, then led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP supports Taiwanese independence and opposes unification with the People's Republic of China, and saw the gift of pandas as an attempt by the CPC to draw the ROC government into its "united front". While several zoos in Taiwan made bids to host the pandas, the ROC government raised objections, ostensibly on the grounds that pandas were not suited to the Taiwanese climate and that Taiwan did not have the expertise to rear pandas successfully. It was widely understood, however, that these were underlain by political considerations by the DPP-led government to maintain its distance from the PRC government. Another technical issue is a dispute over the applicability of Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species . The PRC insisted that a transfer from mainland China to Taiwan was a domestic tranasfer, not subject to CITES, while the ROC government disputed this and would not accept the pandas without CITES procedures. On March 11, 2006, the ROC formally rejected the offer, with President Chen saying "with President Chen explaining in his weekly newsletter, "A-bian (Chen's nickname) sincerely urges the Chinese leaders to leave the giant pandas in their natural habitat, because pandas brought up in cages or given as gifts will not be happy".

Following a change of government in Taiwan, in July 2008, the ROC government led by the Kuomintang stated that it would accept the gift of two four-year-old giant pandas.In December 2008, the government approved the import of pandas under the terms of "species of traditional herbal medicine". Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan arrived at Taipei Zoomarker later in the same month, making international news.

In response to the transfer, the CITES secretariat stated that the transfer of the two pandas was a matter of "internal or domestic trade", and so was not required to be reported to CITES. The ROC quickly issued a rebuttal to the CITES statement and clarified that the procedures for the transfer followed closely a country-to-country transfer. The ROC also noted that such procedures would not be needed if it were an internal/domestic transfer. The ROC further noted that Taiwan is not a CITES signatory and is therefore not obligated to report to the CITES Secretariat its acceptance of the two pandas.

Other animals as diplomatic gifts

Internationally, other rare animals appear as diplomatic/political gifts as well. For example, in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, five Chinese sturgeons, symbolising the five Olympic rings, have been given by China's Central Government to Hong Kongmarker.

In 2009, the government of the Seychelles Islandsmarker announced its gift of a pair of Aldabra giant tortoises to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghaimarker in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of Chinamarker, and in appreciation of China's assisting the small insular nation with the expenses of participating in the Expo. The two tortoises will be actually kept in Shanghai Zoo.

See also


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