There are currently 50 pandas loaned out by China to various countries for the purpose of ensuring major trade and foreign investment deals. A paper from Oxford university stated, “Panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and technology and symbolize China’s willingness to build guanxi — namely, deep trade relationships characterized by trust, reciprocity, loyalty and longevity.”
Some examples include: Canada and France, both of which made multi-billion deals to export their uranium to China as they received pandas in return; Australia, the area with the world’s largest uranium reserves, offering its uranium to China as they obtained two pandas; and Scotland, which signed multi-billion deals so it could supply China with petrochemicals, renewable energy technology, and salmon in return for two pandas now frolicking in the Edinburgh Zoo.
Oxford University’s Kathleen Buckingham, noting that China husbands its pandas carefully, said, “There seems to be a backlog of countries clamoring for pandas. Every zoo has a lion or tiger, but not a panda. China needs to remain selective in its choice of panda-receiving countries in order to maintain the rarity, and therefore, their value.”
Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia have all signed free-trade agreements with China. Singapore and Thailand have already received their pandas, and an imminent panda landing in Malaysia is expected.
The practice isn’t new; Mao Zedong bequeathed pandas to the leaders of the former Soviet Union, North Korea, United States, and the U.K. But cross Beijing and your pandas may be retaken; in 2010 Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama, infuriating China, and two American-born panda cubs were taken back by China, as the pandas are owned by China no matter where they are born.
Suzanne Gendron, director of Hong Kong’s Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, explained, “[China] values pandas as their number one animal. You wouldn’t want to give a panda to someone you don’t trust.”