Berliner Tageblatt - Panda diplomacy is back: China sending two bears to Washington

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Panda diplomacy is back: China sending two bears to Washington
Panda diplomacy is back: China sending two bears to Washington / Photo: © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

Panda diplomacy is back: China sending two bears to Washington

Beijing will return giant pandas to Washington's National Zoo by the end of the year, US First Lady Jill Biden and officials said Wednesday in a surprise announcement signaling a new era of panda diplomacy between the two superpowers.

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"We are excited for children near and far to once again enjoy the giant pandas' adorable and joyful adventures at our @NationalZoo," the first lady posted on X.

China will send a new pair called Bao Li and Qing Bao under a 10-year breeding and research agreement, the zoo said in a statement, hailing a "historic moment" that demonstrated the benefits of its partnership with Beijing.

"We're thrilled to announce the next chapter of our breeding and conservation partnership begins by welcoming two new bears, including a descendent of our beloved panda family, to Washington, DC," said Brandie Smith of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

"This historic moment is proof positive our collaboration with Chinese colleagues has made an irrefutable impact."

Amid soaring tensions between Washington and Beijing, only a handful of the iconic black and white bears remain in the United States, with three having left the national zoo in Washington six months ago.

But President Xi Jinping said after meeting President Joe Biden at a summit in California last November 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.

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 led Beijing to call some of the pandas back home.

- 'Treasure' -

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 in November last year.

The currently last remaining pandas in the United States, at a zoo in the southern city of Atlanta, are due to return to China later this year, although China announced plans in February to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo.

The two new arrivals are both two years old and were born within a month of each other at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Both still live in the province, in separate centers.

Bao Li -- a male whose name means "treasure" and "energetic" -- is something of a scion of a storied Washington family.

His mother was born at the capital's zoo in 2013, while his grandparents lived there from 2000 to 2023, where they served as ambassadors for their species.

Female Qing Bao's name means "green" and "treasure."

The pandas will be quarantined in the panda house for at least 30 days, monitored by a team of keepers, nutritionists and veterinarians.

They will have a few more weeks to settle into their new habitat before a public debut at a date yet to be announced, the zoo said.

"It's a privilege to take part in this next phase of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute's giant panda program and provide the safest and most comfortable transportation for these beloved animals," said Richard W. Smith, president and chief executive officer of Airline and International at FedEx.

M.Furrer--BTB