Panda Diplomacy is China’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 – you go fear name na – (625–705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor.
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 the Chinese government’s gift of two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to the United States in 1972 after President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China (President Nixon reciprocated by sending back a pair of musk oxen). Yea, that’s what they have in the US, Oxen! I would’ve sworn it was Grizzlies.
Anyway, by 1984, however, pandas were no longer used purely as agents of diplomacy. Instead, China began to offer pandas to other nations only on ten-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 be the property of the People’s Republic of China. Since 1998, because of a World Wildlife Fund lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows a U.S. zoo to import a panda only 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.
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 Sichuan 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. Those Chinese!