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China and U.S. begin new round of ‘panda diplomacy’ with iconic giant bears being sent to San Diego Zoo and possibly Washington in bid to turn around souring relations


  • Pandas have become a symbol of diplomacy for China
  • Only four of the iconic bears are currently in the U.S., at the Atlanta Zoo
  • Amid rising tensions with U.S., Beijing has been reclaiming its bears 

China plans to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo and in talks with the National Zoo in Washington D.C. to receive some of its iconic bears as it looks to re-establish ties with the United States.

Relations have soured between Beijing and Washington amid economic competition, concerns over Taiwan, and the Chinese spy balloon but the iconic bears could be a bridge to better rapport.

China had recalled nearly all its pandas on loan to the United States amid the downward spiral with the west.

China plans to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo

China plans to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo

Now, however, the China Wildlife Conservation Association has signed cooperation agreements with zoos in San Diego and Madrid and is in talks with zoos in Washington, D.C. and Vienna, the organization told the Associated Press.

San Diego Zoo officials said if all permits and other requirements are approved, two bears, a male and a female, are expected to arrive as early as the end of summer, about five years after the zoo sent its last pandas back to China.

In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled Beijing would send new pandas to the United States soon, making the pronouncement after his day-long summit with President Joe Biden.

‘We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,’ Xi said during a dinner speech with business leaders.

The two leaders held their first face-to-face meeting in a year but it ended with Chinese fury over Biden calling ‘Xi’ a dictator, and the United States continuing to express its concerns about Beijing’s intentions regarding Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated he would send more pandas to the United States - above he walks with President Joe Biden

Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated he would send more pandas to the United States – above he walks with President Joe Biden

There are currently only four panda bears in the U.S.

There are currently only four panda bears in the U.S.

Washington D.C.'s bears returned to China last fall - above male giant panda Xiao Qi Ji rolls around in his enclosure in the Smithsonian National Zoo

Washington D.C.’s bears returned to China last fall – above male giant panda Xiao Qi Ji rolls around in his enclosure in the Smithsonian National Zoo

Washington-Beijing relations have been seriously strained since a Chinese spy balloon flew across the U.S. in February and was eventually shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

Compounding concerns were Taiwan, Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea, heightened espionage, trade and human rights. 

At their summit, Xi told Biden that the mainland will reunify with Taiwan. Jinping also said in a New Year’s address that China’s ‘reunification’ with Taiwan is inevitable.

The United States has made it clear it supports keeping the status quo.

With the ‘One China’ policy, the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but it has maintained that Taipei is an important partner in the Indo-Pacific. Beijing claims as the island as its territory.

The United States is Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties.

Amid the tension, pandas have become a symbol of diplomacy for China, who originally gifted two bears to the United States in 1972, ahead of the normalization of relations.

Beijing continued to loan pandas to the United States and other countries but the bears are on a strict lease program and ultimately return to China.

Zoos typically pay a fee of $1 million a year for two pandas, with the money earmarked for China’s conservation efforts. 

The first pandas came to the U.S. in 1972 - above then-First Lady Pat Nixon visits the two bears - Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing - at the National Zoo

The first pandas came to the U.S. in 1972 – above then-First Lady Pat Nixon visits the two bears – Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing – at the National Zoo

In November, the panda bears at Washington D.C.'s zoo returned to China - above a crate carrying Panda Xiao Qi Ji as it is moved out of the zoo

In November, the panda bears at Washington D.C.’s zoo returned to China – above a crate carrying Panda Xiao Qi Ji as it is moved out of the zoo

Xi’s announcement last November came a week after the National Zoo’s three giant pandas, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub Xiao Qi Ji, returned to China.

Currently there are only four pandas are left in the United States, in the Atlanta Zoo. That loan agreement expires later this year.



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