Chinese President Xi Jinping appears ready to deploy his country’s soft power after his summit with US President Joe Biden -- in the form of cuddly pandas. Tensions between Washington and Beijing mean that only a handful of the black and white bears remain in the United States, with three having left the national zoo in Washington earlier this month.
But Xi told a dinner after meeting Biden in California on Wednesday that China could send new pandas as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people.” The White House said it would be happy to have more bamboo-chewing bears.
“Should the decision be made by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to restore some of the pandas to the United States, we would absolutely welcome them back,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “That’s got to be a decision that obviously President Xi makes.”
China has been using so-called “panda diplomacy” since 1972, when the first animals were sent to the United States in 1972 as a gift, following then-president Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the Communist nation.
Strained relations between the rival superpowers in recent years have however led Beijing to call some of the pandas back home.—AFP
All three giant pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington -- Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who arrived in 2000, and their three-year-old cub Xiao Qi Ji (“Little Miracle” in English) -- flew back on a cargo plane to China earlier this month.
“I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas, and went to the zoo to see them off,” Xi said after a dinner with CEOs in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Xi then hinted that new pandas could be coming back to the US west coast. “I also learned that the San Diego Zoo and people of California are very much looking forward to welcoming the pandas back,” he said.
“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.”
The last remaining pandas currently in the United States, at a zoo in the southern city of Atlanta, are due to return to China by late 2024.—AFP