Pandas are one of the most recognisable emblems of China, and a source of ‘soft power. Panda diplomacy refers to the practice of the Chinese government gifting or loaning giant pandas to other countries as a symbol of friendship, goodwill, or to strengthen diplomatic relations.
This practice dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), but became particularly prominent in the 20th and 21st centuries. Today, there are an estimated 1,900 pandas in the wild and about 600 in zoos and breeding centres. If pandas are not given as gift, borrower has to pay a lease fee of around USD$1 million per year, in addition to the cost of building a panda facility. This is said to cover the costs of panda conservation efforts in China.
In modern times, China has offered pandas as diplomatic gifts to countries like the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, among others. In recent decades, the practice has shifted from gifting to loaning pandas, often accompanied by a set of terms and conditions. These terms can include fees for the loan, provisions for the care of the pandas, and agreements to return any offspring born to the pandas back to China.
Panda diplomacy can also serve as a way for China to promote its image abroad, demonstrate its commitment to wildlife conservation, and build stronger ties with countries that receive pandas.
In many cases, the arrival of pandas in a country generates significant public interest and can lead to increased tourism and cultural exchanges between the countries involved.