January 19, 2024
BEIJING – When the Smithsonian’s National Zoo held a Panda Palooza to say farewell to the giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, and their cubs in September 2023, long queues formed at the entrance while some of their fans even took a 10-hour night drive from Indiana only to say goodbye to them.
Which echoes the scene in 1972, when more than 8,000 people, despite the rainy weather, welcomed the first pair of giant pandas upon their arrival at the National Zoo. After 1984, the Chinese government stopped giving pandas as gifts, but instead provided them under rent-lease agreements. Throughout the half century of their stay in the United States, whether as gifts or loans, giant pandas have been a living testimony to the friendship between the two peoples.
But with the loan periods coming to end, pandas at zoos around the country have been sent to China. Moves that have caused some to worry that rising tensions between Washington and Beijing could lead China to cut off the lending program altogether — depriving US people of the opportunity to see the pandas on US soil.
Thus by proposing on Jan 5 that pandas could return to the US by the end of 2024, China has sent a friendly message to the US that it wants the two countries to “peacefully coexist”.
Yet some politicians in the US have been politicizing the matter by trying to snuff out China’s panda diplomacy, claiming that Beijing uses pandas as a tool of “subversive” soft power.
Those China-bashers, for whom anything related to China is anathema, hope to prevent pandas from returning to the US.