pandas are back, a sign of thaw between China and the United States?

The American National Zoo will welcome a new pair of young Chinese plantigrades by the end of the year. Could this be a sign of appeasement between Beijing and Washington?



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Giant panda Bao Li in its habitat at Shenshuping Base in Wolong, China, May 16, 2024. (AFP PHOTO / ROSHAN PATEL, SMITHSONIAN'S NATIONAL ZOO AND CONSERVATION BIOLOGY INSTITUTE)

We don’t yet know when these two big balls of black and white fur will arrive – for now they are still in China rolling around and nibbling on bamboo. But we already know that these “pandassadeurs” are called Qing Bao for the female and Bao Li for the male (whose mother was also born in the same zoo in 2013). “Bao” can be translated as “treasure” or “precious object”.

The announcement of this new ten-year loan contract with China was made on Wednesday May 29 by officials of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, alongside a very enthusiastic first lady, Jill Biden even speaking of a moment “historical“.

The giant pandas will only make their public debut when the zoo believes they have acclimated to their new habitat and are ready to welcome large numbers of visitors. Upon arrival, they will be quarantined for at least 30 days to reduce the risk of introducing parasites or diseases to other animals. Then they will discover their new habitat, currently being renovated, including new climbing structures and water games to encourage them to exercise, as well as a new ventilation system to improve the quality of air. air.

Beijing has been intensively using “panda diplomacy” as a tool of soft power for fifty years. If the Middle Kingdom sends its big teddy bears across the planet, it is not only to contribute to the preservation of the species, but above all to set the temperature for its relations with its partners. To find out if you find favor in his eyes, just count the number of pandas he has lent you.

The upcoming arrival of Qing Bao and Bao Li is therefore a real sign of appeasement between the two superpowers. In front of the press, Wednesday May 29, the Chinese ambassador, the real one, the biped, told the Americans: “take care of China-US relations like you take care of pandas”. “For the future of the world, China and the United States should choose to be partners, not rivals“.

However, a few months ago, it wasn’t quite the same music. Last November, when the previous contract expired, the Washington Zoo’s three furry tenants went home without being replaced. A few months earlier, it was Yaya, housed for 20 years at the Memphis Zoo this time, who made the return trip. The links were at their lowest.

But in November, Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, who met, agreed to talk more. The Chinese president has indicated that he is willing to send more “sent from friendship” in the United States, despite an intensifying geopolitical rivalry: the two men disagree on almost everything, the independence of Taiwan, support for North Korea, trade and technology issues.

Maintaining this very diplomatic friendship has a cost, the national zoo will pay China a royalty of one million dollars per year for ten years.

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