Panda’s are commonly seen as being a pivotal symbol of China, however, beyond their cuddly exterior can be seen high levels of diplomatic and political clout. The practice of ‘panda diplomacy’ began in 1957 when Mao Zedong gifted a giant panda to the Soviet Union as a thank you gift for being the first country to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Further Pandas have been sent to the USA, North Korea, Mexico, Spain and the UK among others (Duggan, 2014).
A recent example of this can be seen through the two giant pandas which have recently been gifted to Belgium amid the diplomacy row which can be seen. The pair of 4 year old pandas were greeted by the Belgian prime minister along with a large crowd of around 2,500; many of whom were excited children with national flags and panda face paint on (Mingxin, 2014). Many Belgians already consider them as celebrities, with the pair putting their name to their own twitter account (BBC News, 2014). However the arrival has sparked controversy, with it leading to arguments between the Flemish and French Belgians due to the choice of zoo which the Pandas now call home (BBC News, 2014).
China managed to negotiate a contract worth £2.6 billion for the supply of salmon meat from Scotland at the same time that they were seen to gift pandas to Edinburgh zoo in 2011, in addition to Land Rover Cars and peterochemical and renewable energy technology (The Guardian, 2011). The arrival of pandas in Canada and France also coincided with contracts to supply China with uranium oxide (Duggan, 2014). An additional reason for pandas being lent to these locations is to try and extend research as to how pandas can be bred in captivity in order to try and increase the number of pandas which can be found with only 1,600 pandas currently being left in the wild and around 300 in captivity (Duggan, 2014).
However, is it right that pandas are being used to secure such lucrative deals even if the research which can then be carried out on them may be beneficial in the long run?
BBC News, 2014, China Pandas arrive in Belgium amid diplomacy row, BBC news online, Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26318533, [Accessed 28/02/2014]
Duggan, J., 2014, China’s cuddly ambassadors with diplomatic clout, The Guardian Online, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/chinas-choice/2014/feb/27/china-panda-diplomacy [Accessed 27/02/2014]
Mingxin, B., 2014, China’s giant pandas arrive at new home in Belgian zoo, Xinhaunet, Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-02/23/c_133137334.htm [Accessed 28/02/2014]
The Guardian, 2011, Giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang arrive in Scotland – in pictures, The Guardian online, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/gallery/2011/dec/04/giant-pandas-edinburgh-scotland, [Accessed 28/02/2014]