‘Panda Diplomacy’ Drops As Washington Says Goodbye To The Black-And-White Furballs
All three of the Smithsonian National Zoo’s pandas are leaving for China by the end of the year, bringing a temporary end to a long connection between the cuddly animal and Washington.
Ahead of the departure, the zoo has kicked off a ‘Panda Palooza’ event, welcoming scores of fans, many outfitted in panda-themed shirts and hats.
And while the departure had been expected due to contractual obligations, a number of people still see the shift as reflective of the growing strains between the US and China.
US Restricting Imports From Chinese Companies
Amid mounting tensions over Taiwan and continuing trade disputes between the two powers, Washington recently restricted imports from three more Chinese companies.
The US has added three companies based in Xinjiang to the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act Entity List to eliminate goods made with forced labour from its supply chains.
The entities were designated because of their business practices involving Uyghur minorities and other persecuted groups, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.
‘Panda Diplomacy’ In Focus
Over half a century ago, China gifted two pandas to the US in 1972, following then-president Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the country.
Recognising the species’ ability to attract fans – and a potential source of income for its conservation programme – China continued to loan out pandas to zoos around the world.
At the Smithsonian zoo, millions of dollars have been spent on the furballs’ enclosure and studies, including a popular 24-hour ‘Panda Cam’ to monitor their behaviour.
“As A Form Of Soft Power Projection”
Soon, there would be no panda bears left in all of North America, except a very old one in Mexico, as Zoo Atlanta in Georgia is also set to send its four pandas to China by 2024.
China tends to “bestow” pandas on nations with whom its relations are on the upswing, “as a form of soft power projection”, said Kurt Tong, a former high-ranking US diplomat.
“In that respect, given the current tenor of US-China relations it is not surprising that Chinese authorities are allowing panda contracts with US zoos to expire,” Tong said in an email to AFP.