Panda diplomacy might not be dead yet | ET REALITY

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The furballs could return to Washington and San Diego.

Xi Jinping, China’s leader, said in a speech Wednesday night that his nation’s top diplomats, giant pandas, could soon return to U.S. zoos that have recently sent bears back to their homeland.

“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation and do everything possible to meet the wishes of Californians to deepen friendly ties between our two peoples,” he told a meeting of mostly executives from business in a meeting. Dinner in San Francisco.

Mr. Xi he pointed that pandas are “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people.”

Pandamonium took hold in the United States last week when the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington sent its two adult pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, ​​and her cub, Xiao Qi Ji, or “Little Miracle,” back to China on September 19. FedEx flight time, the Panda Express.

Police escorts accompanied the trucks loaded with boxes to Dulles International Airport, with all the pomp of a presidential convoy traveling through Washington.

The bears were accompanied on the flight by 220 pounds of bamboo, a veterinarian and two zookeepers.

The pandas were due to return to China in early December due to the expiration of a three-year pandemic-era extension of a series of agreements between the National Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, the zoo’s partner. zoo in China.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian came to Washington in 2000, following the death of two pandas given to the zoo in April 1972 following the historic visit of President Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Patricia, to Beijing. (At dinner, Mrs. Nixon told China’s Prime Minister Zhou Enlai how much she loved pandas.)

The zoo originally paid $1 million a year to house Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, ​​but renegotiated the figure to $500,000 a year after the first decade.

Mei Xiang gave birth to Xiao Qi Ji in August 2020. He was her fourth surviving cub born in Washington. Each birth took place after scientists carefully monitored her ovulation cycle and performed artificial insemination.

Once the zoo announced that the pandas would be gone in mid-November, fans began traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to see them. Some had been watching the bears daily online through the zoo’s so-called panda camera.

“I was told that many Americans, especially children, were very reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas and went to the zoo to see them off,” Xi said Wednesday.

At the National Zoo, the giant panda enclosures in the Asia Trail area are now empty, and many visitors come to see the neighboring red pandas, small furry creatures that look like raccoons. Giant pandas are a type of bear.

The San Diego Zoo sent its two pandas in 2019, and the Memphis Zoo sent a panda in April. Xi said she had learned that the San Diego Zoo and California residents “look forward to welcoming the pandas back.”

Zoo Atlanta now has the only giant pandas in the United States (parents and twin cubs), but they are expected to return to China next year.

Those zoos are the four institutions in the United States that have consistently housed pandas over the decades. Each negotiates contracts with one of two conservation groups in China. The pandas come mainly from the Wolong National Nature Reserve in the misty mountains of Sichuan province, where about 150 pandas live, chewing bamboo for a dozen or more hours a day.

Given rising tensions between the United States and China in recent years, many Americans have wondered whether geopolitics has prompted Chinese officials to ask for the return of the pandas. But National Zoo officials and scientists said each of their three pandas were at an age when the bears should return.

National Zoo officials said in interviews before departure on Nov. 8 that they planned to start talks soon to try to get their Chinese partner to send pandas back to the zoo. But officials said they had no intention of asking Biden or the State Department to intervene with China. A zoo spokeswoman said they had no comment on Mr Xi’s comments.

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