Panda diplomacy

by Falk Hartig

Am Mittelmeer. Menschen auf neuen Wegen (Ausgabe III/2012)

They are China's cutest ambassadors: Giant Pandas. In recent months, the bamboo-eaters have been increasingly used for a global charm offensive. After long negotiations, two bears were sent to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2011 and two more to France in early 2012. Canada was sent into a tizzy on news it would get a pair of panda in 2013 - also because the once Chinese-critical Prime Minister Stephen Harper had adopted a more friendly tone. Since these extremely rare animals only exist in China, they have always been used for diplomacy. In the year 685 Empress Wu Zetian is said to have given a giant panda to Japan for the first time.

In 1972, after Nixon's visit to China, two gift bears created "Panda Mania" in the USA. Today, the coveted animals are usually only loaned to zoos for ten years. Keeping them costs around one million dollars a year, excluding the bamboo costs of up to 150,000 euros. Yet the deal pays off for all parties involved: the public races to the zoos, which make as much money from them as they can - even their excrement is sold as fertiliser. China, on the other hand, gets money for breeding programmes, and a boost to its international reputation. Even Chinese-sceptics among the media outlets,  go a storm on  the fluffy black and white bears. It is all too clear why the Giant Panda is considered a "national treasure" in China.

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