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HomeBusinessIn a new round of ‘panda diplomacy,’ China sends giant bears to...

In a new round of ‘panda diplomacy,’ China sends giant bears to the U.S. after two decades

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Giant pandas are en route from China to a San Diego zoo in the U.S. for the first time in more than two decades. A sign, “Panda Diplomacy” is being resumed by Beijing in regard to its relations with the West.

Yun Chuan, a four-year-old male panda, and Xin Bao, a female panda who will turn four in July, departed from Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, in China’s Sichuan province on Wednesday.

According to a press release from the zoo, for the next 10 years, the pair will reside at the San Diego Zoo.

Todd Gloria, San Diego mayor visited the Chinese facility on Wednesday to celebrate the pandas’ departure before welcoming them to his city. Delegates from both countries were also present.

“I’m honored to have been invited to join in the farewell ceremonies in China for Yun Chuan and Xin Bao,” the mayor said on X. “This is a historic conservation partnership that will help protect these magnificent creatures and their habitat.”

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance President and CEO Paul Baribault said the farewell ceremony “celebrates their journey and underscores a collaboration between the United States and China on vital conservation efforts.”

Including Americans who visited China earlier, and “got to know the pandas well,” the pandas were accompanied by caretakers and veterinarians from both China and the U.S., Huang Shan, a giant panda caretaker at the Ya’an facility told NBC News.

To help the pandas settle in, the Chinese team will spend about three months in San Diego, said the state media China Daily.

The zoo highlighted that the bears will take time to acclimatize and won’t be allowed to meet the public immediately.

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The first zoo in the U.S. to have a cooperative panda conservation program, San Diego Zoo aims at improving the health and resilience of giant pandas.

Yun Chua, the male panda, is the son of Zhen Zhen, who was born at San Diego Zoo in 2007.

TAfter a 27-year-old female giant panda, Bai Yun, and her 6-year-old son, Xiao Liwu, returned to China, the zoo has not had resident pandas since 2019. The zoo pledged at that time to continue its conservation efforts.

What is Panda diplomacy?

For decades, China has used “panda diplomacy” to project Chinese soft power and ease tensions with the U.S.

China recalled three giant pandas last year that were loaned to the U.S. who were residing at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington as tensions with Washington flared.

Four others in Zoo Atlanta are expected to return home this year.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledged in January giant pandas would return to the U.S., saying the two countries must coexist peacefully and put their differences aside, the Associated Press reported.

“Beijing wants to improve American perceptions of China and is leaning into cultural diplomaUScy because it does not want to compromise on political issues such as human rights, industrial policy, and territorial disputes,” Neil Thomas, a fellow on Chinese Politics at Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis told CNBC.

However, he highlighted that the pandas’ arrival to San Diego will have little impact on bilateral relations.

“Panda diplomacy will have little impact on the U.S.-China relationship, which has already entered a seemingly prolonged period of strategic competition,” Thomas said.

“Zoogoers should enjoy watching the cute pandas without worrying that Washington has become beholden to Beijing.”

For more updates, click here.

— With reporting from NBC News.

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