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China resumes ‘panda diplomacy’ with US

Two bears are en route to the San Diego Zoo as part of a conservation effort

A pair of giant pandas from China are heading to the US, in the first such move for more than two decades. President Xi Jinping suggested sending the iconic bears to the San Diego Zoo as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.”

The two pandas, Yun Chuan and Xin Bao, left Bifengxia Giant Panda Base in China’s Sichuan province on Wednesday. They will reside in the US for the next ten years, according to a statement from the zoo.

The shipment of the bears marks a new round of giant panda protection cooperation between Beijing and Washington, following an agreement signed in February between the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the San Diego Zoo.

US officials, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, attended the farewell ceremony in China which featured cultural performances, video greetings from Chinese and US students, and a gift exchange among conservation partners, the zoo said.

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

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Xin Bao, a female born in July 2020, is a “gentle and well-behaved” panda, while Yun Chuan, a male born in July 2019, is “smart and lively,” CCTV reported.

The bears were accompanied by five caretakers and veterinary experts from both China and the US.

The iconic giant panda is considered vulnerable to extinction. For decades, Beijing has gifted the animals to countries as a tool of diplomacy and wildlife conservation.

China’s Chairman Mao Zedong first sent two pandas to then-US President Richard Nixon in 1972, following the American leader’s historic visit to the country which laid the ground for mutual political ties.

Starting in 1984, China switched from gifting pandas to leasing them out.

Last year, China recalled three giant pandas that were loaned to the US as tensions with Washington escalated.

June 27, 2024 at 08:02PM

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