Pandas play an important diplomatic role for China. For more than half a century, China has used its pandas to help foster relations with other countries, for what has become known as Panda Diplomacy. I argue that Panda Diplomacy is — besides all the efforts to promote and support animal conservation and biological research — a political undertaking, which is symbolically used by the Chinese government to win hearts and minds in selected foreign countries. Second, it highlights an important aspect of some Chinese public diplomacy initiatives, namely China’s ability to integrate international partners in its attempts to shape its global image.
China started the practice of Panda Diplomacy in 1957. The first country to receive this gift from the PRC is, of course, the Soviet Union. Beijing gave two pandas to Moscow in 1957 and 1959 as a sign of friendship. North Korea, another Chinese ally and one who fought shoulder to shoulder with China against the “American Imperialist” during the Korean War from 1950-53, received a total of five pandas from the PRC from 1965-1980. (Lin W., 2009)
Later in 1972, China gifted another two pandas to the United States after President Richard Nixon’s visit to China. The gift was seen as a huge diplomatic success and establishment of official relations with the US. Besides, the United States, between 1958 and 1982 China gifted 23 pandas to different countries, such as France, Mexico, Japan, UK, France and Spain (Domi222., 2015).
When China realized that numbers of Pandas fell, since 1980s it has stopped giving pandas just as diplomatic gifts. Instead, China would sign a contract and lends pandas to other countries in the name of mutual scientific research exchange in an attempt to increase their numbers. The rent, however, is not cheap. For example, a zoo in the United States pays up to US$1,000,000 per year to rent a pair of pandas for a period of about ten years. The United States, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, Spain and Japan are some of the countries that take this approach to acquire pandas. (Lin W., 2009)
However, the panda has become an integral part of China’s Soft power. Sending pandas abroad is a strong and symbolic communicative aspect of China’s foreign policy used by the Chinese government to win hearts (less minds though) in selected foreign countries. In addition, it points to the interesting fact that China is able to integrate international partners into its attempts to shape its global image, and even to make these partners pay for China’s image management. China reaches out much wider audience with pandas than with the Confucius Institutes, China Daily, CCTV, or any touring arts group. (Hartig F.,2014)
By Miss Keins, Alicia
Domi222., May 2015, Panda Diplomacy, Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014c
https://pdgc2014c.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/panda-diplomacy/, accessed April 2017
Lin, W., February 2009, China’s Panda Diplomacy, Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies
www.mac.gov.tw/public/Attachment/052716233690.pdf, accessed April 2017
Hartig, F., March 2014, The Latest Round of China’s Panda Diplomacy: Winning Hearts in Belgium, USC Center on Public Diplomacy