China Signals Renewed Interest In Panda Diplomacy With US Zoos

As the last giant pandas in the United States prepare to return to China from Zoo Atlanta, Chinese officials have indicated a renewed interest in “panda diplomacy” with American zoos.

In February, the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) announced agreements to send pandas to zoos in San Diego, Washington, D.C., Madrid, and Vienna. The San Diego Zoo could receive a pair of pandas, a male and a female, as early as the end of the summer if all permits are approved.

Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Mao Ning expressed enthusiasm for the new round of international cooperation, saying, “We look forward to further expanding the research outcomes on the conservation of endangered species such as giant pandas, and promoting mutual understanding and friendship among peoples.”

The panda exchange program between China and the United States began in 1972 under an agreement brokered by then-President Nixon. Since then, several U.S. zoos have hosted giant pandas on loan from China, with the animals serving as beloved attractions and symbols of international goodwill.

However, the expiration of Zoo Atlanta’s 25-year agreement with China reflects a shift in the Chinese government’s approach to panda diplomacy. According to Barbara K. Bodine, director of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, the decision to recall the pandas from Atlanta is indicative of the Chinese government’s broader sentiment toward other countries.

As China signals its willingness to continue the panda exchange program with select U.S. zoos, the iconic bears remain a powerful tool for fostering international cooperation and understanding.