Rare Biden Diplomacy Win! China to Send Pandas to San Diego

The giant panda Hao Hao walks in its enclosure as the Belgian king and Chinese President v

The only tangible concession from China as a result of genocidal dictator Xi Jinping’s four-hour meeting with counterpart Joe Biden in California in November – a promise to send pandas to America – will be fulfilled soon, the Communist Party animal agency confirmed on Thursday.

The China Wildlife Conservation Association announced a “new round of international cooperation” that will include sending pandas to the San Diego Zoo. Spain’s Madrid Zoo will also receive pandas, apparently as a result of unrelated negotiations with the socialist-led European country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry effusively celebrated the news as a diplomatic breakthrough, teasing that it may soon also reach agreements to send pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The South China Morning Post observed on Thursday that the only zoo in America currently housing giant pandas is Zoo Atlanta, and the agreement with the Communist Party allowing their stay there is expected to end at the conclusion of 2024.

The Conservation Association “said the US-China agreement includes stepped up efforts to monitor and evaluate the animals’ health, on-site inspections and evaluations, sharing resources and knowledge, expanding ecology awareness and promoting friendship between China and other countries,” the Morning Post added, citing a publication on Chinese state-controlled social media.

“We hope that the new round of international cooperation on giant panda conservation between China and relevant countries will further enrich scientific research in protecting giant panda and other endangered species, and forge closer bonds between our peoples,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters during her regular briefing on Thursday.

China has long used pandas to soften its image as one of the world’s most prolific human rights criminals, distracting from issues such as the mass incarceration and disappearance of political dissidents, the Uyghur genocide, and extensive evidence that it harvests and traffics the organs of political prisoners. “Panda diplomacy” was a conspicuous part of late President Richard Nixon’s attempts to warm ties with Mao Zedong, whose reign in China resulted in at least 45 million deaths, spearheaded by First Lady Pat Nixon.

The panda issue offered Biden’s summit with Xi in November a modest success in light of the few tangible results of welcoming the genocidal leader to California. Xi told business leaders in San Francisco following his retreat with Biden that his country was “ready to continue [its] cooperation with the United States on panda conservation” to “deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples.”

“Recently, the three pandas at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C. have returned to China. I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas, and went to the zoo to see them off,” Xi lamented. “I also learned that the San Diego Zoo and the Californians very much look forward to welcoming pandas back.”

Xi’s panda promise was more concrete than any of the other results of the California summit. The White House readout of the meeting detailed the conversation – including affirmations from Biden that China and America were “in competition” and a promise to continue supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion that began in 2022 – but offered few results.

The two leaders promised “cooperation” on fighting the scourge of fentanyl in America, which China is largely responsible for, but the “cooperation” appears in the form of the creation of a “working group” to discuss the problem – not any significant law enforcement action against drug traffickers or conversations with the government of Mexico, where cartel leaders often preside over distribution.

Similarly, two leaders “underscored the importance of working together to accelerate efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” but did not promise any specific efforts to tackle the “climate crisis.” China is the world’s worst polluter in terms of carbon emissions and is also a significant contributor to methane emissions, and plastic waste – a fact omitted from the White House readout.

22 February 2024, China, Peking: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning speaks at the daily briefing. Mao Ning spoke to media representatives about issues including new panda bears for a zoo in San Diego, USA. (Johannes Neudecker/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Biden also, according to the White House, “raised concerns” regarding the Uyghur genocide, its occupation of Tibet, and the violent elimination of autonomy in Hong Kong, but that conversation did not yield any apparent action from either side.

Xi and Biden also agreed to return to regular military communications, which were halted after China sent an invasive espionage balloon into American airspace. That promise in November was especially empty as China did not have a defense minister – Xi purged the man in the top military job, Li Shangfu, last year – and soured further as Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin abruptly disappeared for a secret hospitalization on New Year’s Day. Austin apologized but has apparently endured no professional consequences.

China has since replaced Li, who has not been seen in public since August, with former Navy chief Dong Jun.

Biden called the meeting “candid, straightforward, and useful” – a description that appears accurate for the negotiations on the pandas.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.



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