Chinese Diplomacy: How Pandas Become Hostages Of Politicians

A life 2023

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Chinese Diplomacy: How Pandas Become Hostages Of Politicians
Chinese Diplomacy: How Pandas Become Hostages Of Politicians
Video: Chinese Diplomacy: How Pandas Become Hostages Of Politicians
Video: China's panda diplomacy, explained 2023, February
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Dmitry kurkin

Two giant pandas arrived at the Moscow Zoo from China. This happened for the first time in sixty years, and the news of this attracted the attention of not only wildlife enthusiasts, but also political observers. Over the past half century, the bamboo bear has become not only a symbol of China, but also a kind of goodwill ambassador, symbolizing the friendly disposition of the Celestial Empire to this or that country. The expression "panda diplomacy" has even entered political slang: it has long been known that the country, which owns almost all of the two thousand individuals of a rare species, anyhow, does not distribute them to anyone.

Outside of China, pandas (hereinafter we will talk about the giant panda, which, despite the historical confusion, does not belong to the panda family - it is represented by the lesser panda, also living in China) did not travel often because of their habitat and dietary habits. Strictly speaking, pandas, like other bears, are omnivores, but once they tasted bamboo - scientists suggest that this happened about five thousand years ago - they could no longer refuse it. Bamboo shoots are not very nutritious, but the bears preferred to go into energy-saving mode and simply move less instead of changing their diet. Bamboo addiction was one of the reasons pandas were on the verge of extinction: they were transferred from the endangered species list to the vulnerable list just three years ago. But she also contributed to the growth of their popularity in the last century, making them a symbol of peace, and saved them. At least for a while.

China has sent pandas as official gifts on more than one occasion. According to chronicles, in the 7th century, Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty donated two bears to the Japanese court - it is generally believed that these were the first giant pandas taken abroad. However, the demand and exclusivity of the species in China were truly appreciated after the proclamation of the people's republic in 1949.

In the early years, pandas were sent only to friendly socialist regimes - the USSR and the DPRK, until the Austrian broker Heini Demmer was able to reverse the trend. He traded the Chi-Chi female, who did not take root in the Moscow Zoo, for three giraffes, two hippos, two zebras and two rhinos - this strange exchange rate says something about the then demand for pandas. Chi-Chi settled in London Zoo and quickly became a favorite there, and in 1961, zoologist and artist Peter Scott copied the emblem of the World Wildlife Fund from her. So the panda has finally established itself in pop culture as a symbol of good nature (which, as often happens in pop culture, is somewhat exaggerated: cases of pandas attacking a person from time to time occur).

The warming of China's relations with the West in the early seventies was marked by the arrival of pandas in the United States, Japan, France, Britain, Germany and Mexico. At the same time, Chinese bears were first spoken of as status "negotiators": if you want to know where Beijing's geopolitical interests are directed, follow the big panda.

The "panda deal" is closed only after the signing of much larger agreements beneficial to the official Beijing

In the eighties, realizing the effectiveness of panda diplomacy and at the same time being concerned about preserving the species, China declared pandas state property, strengthened their protection (killing a panda is punishable by death, the same punishment was imposed until 2010 for poaching bamboo bears) and at the same time decided that from now on pandas will only be leased for ten years - on the condition that the offspring they produce will also belong to China. The only exception was made for territories that Beijing considers their own, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Which can also be considered a demonstrative political gesture.

In November 2017, the Financial Times drew up a detailed map of the movement of Chinese diplomatic bears, while simultaneously questioning how special status threatened their survival. “In a sense, the panda is the luckiest species on Earth, and at the same time they were not at all lucky,” said Wang Djun, a professor at Peking University, whose specialty is studying the life of pandas in the wild. "People protect pandas not out of scientific interest or out of concern for the environment, but because of their cute faces and political significance."

Indeed, the opportunity to be photographed with pandas has established itself as a way to earn some popularity points that politicians from Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama to François Hollande and Justin Trudeau did not disdain. The method is, perhaps, somewhat expensive - a year of renting one panda usually costs about a million dollars - but effective. China also understands this, setting the rules for negotiations on pandas: they require that the formal heads of state personally ask for the transfer of the bear. And of course, the "panda deal" is closed only after the signing of much larger agreements beneficial to the official Beijing, be it contracts for the sale of uranium and nuclear energy technologies (in the case of Australia, France and Canada) or a contract for the supply of healthcare products (the Netherlands).

All this makes the pandas an extremely valuable tool of "soft power", and it seems to improve their living conditions. At the same time, not all ecologists are optimistic about the increased interest in the species. “We've seen a 200 percent increase in fragmentation over the past ten years, and things will get worse over the next ten years. The area [of panda reservations] is technically large, but if roads and people prevent pandas from reaching each other, they will continue to die out,”says Fan Zhiyong of WWF.

Cover: watman - stock.adobe.com

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