Panda Diplomacy in 500 Words
sumber gambar: CIA // google.
“Panda diplomacy” is, in short, a diplomatic strategy by the People’s Republic of China (“China”) to express either approval or disapproval towards other countries. When a country has acted favorably to China or are considered an ally, then China will loan out their panda(s). Oppositely, when China is unhappy with another country’s actions, they can withhold or delay their pandas and even withdraw the ones they have already loaned out.
Historically, the first recorded practice of panda diplomacy began as early as 658 AD. The Empress at that time, Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty, presented two pandas to their neighboring country Japan. From that point, they continued giving these black and white bears to countries as a way to express benevolence. However, after pandas were marked as endangered species, China stopped presenting them as gifts and began loaning them out instead. Now, the annual cost to loan a panda is at $1 million US Dollars (USD) per bear, and a $400.000 USD tax is also charged per cub should any be born outside China. In year 2018, there are 18 different countries which have received pandas as loan from China.
While it is used to convey friendship and approval, China sometimes utilizes panda diplomacy to express their dissatisfaction. An example of this was in 2014, when China was frustrated with the Malaysian government’s response towards the disappearance of the Malaysian aircraft MH370, which had 152 Chinese citizens on board. In response to this, China delayed sending a panda to the Malaysian zoo. Additionally, China can even take away their four-legged diplomats back, which happened with the United States in 2010 when President Obama met with the Dalai Lama, who was a strong critic of the Chinese Government, and the country announced an arms sale to Taiwan despite China’s objections. Not long after, China ordered two pandas from Washington DC to be repatriated.
While the practice is seemingly benign, it comes with controversies as well. For starters, countries are told that 70 percent of the annual $1 million USD fee would go to the creature’s conservation in China. However, these countries have no say nor clear knowledge on how the money is spent. Some investigations and insider testimonies have claimed that a number of the so-called “research facilities” dedicated to “conservation” are abandoned, while others reportedly lacked staff. What’s worse than this is that many of the female pandas are also forced to give birth in an unnatural rate and have their babies taken away from them to be raised by humans.
Based on the undying public adoration for pandas, countries will most likely continue to engage in this unique form of diplomacy. However, should it really continue to be at the expense of millions of dollars and more importantly, the animal’s wellbeing? As this practice continues, then hopefully in the near future, there will be more transparency in where the “conservation” money is allocated and room for other countries to contribute, be it in ideas or perhaps, even facilities.