public diplomacy

Panda Diplomacy

By Colleen Calhoun, Mary Anne Porto and Libby Schiller

Exotic animals have long been seen as symbols of power and democracy. Dating back
to the times of Ancient Rome and Emperor Octavius, large animals such as lions,
rhinoceroses, etc. have been used as leverage in bureaucracy. Animal diplomacy is not exclusive to the Chinese. In the era of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Egypt gave Giraffes to foreign nations. Queen Elizabeth II gave two black beavers to Canada in 1970. The Chinese originally gave Pandas away as gifts, but in 1984 the government decided to begin a 10-year loan system with annual payments.
Today, there are more than 25 zoos worldwide that have Pandas.
With the new loan system, China has reached out to countries in an attempt to foster
relationships. More so now, China has been using Panda diplomacy to pursue
economic and
political ambitions as well. The Edinburgh Zoo received its pandas in 2011, setting up a
deal to
pay an annual fee to the Chinese government to help giant panda conservation projects
in the
wild. Not only is China reaching out to countries using Pandas, they are benefiting from
relationships as well. Similarly, Japan also received two pandas in 2011, and the two
hoped it would improve relations caused by dispute over islands and their sovereignty.
China has been successful in their efforts because Pandas are very cute and many
would like to have them in their zoos. Pandas are a soft power tool that the Chinese
have been
using to increase their scope around the world. More so than diplomatic relationships,
China has
seen more growth in economic relationships with Panda diplomacy.
According to a BBC article, Scottish exports to China have almost doubled in the past
five years. Similarly, Panda loans in Canada, France and Australia coincided with trade
deals for uranium. The article also said, “If a panda is given to the country, it does not
signify the closing of a deal – they have entrusted an endangered, precious animal to
the country; it signifies in some ways a new start to the relationship.” This shows that
China is not looking to give countries Pandas and
complete a one time deal. They are looking to foster long-term relationships, especially
regarding economics. As a soft power tool, the Chinese government can use cute,
cuddly Pandas

to increase economic growth, not only for the time-being, but over an extended period of
There are many challenges facing those who wish to replicate animal diplomacy efforts
of the
past. Animal advocates have challenged the practice as they say it commercializes
animal lives
and puts stressors on already vulnerable endangered species. Others want more
about where fees for loans go. Countries who choose to do so should consider making
funding more transparent and perhaps shifting away from a funding model all together,
focusing on just awareness, to reduce criticism. Countries should also consider the
logistics of
their animals, making sure the animals are able to travel and not endangered. They
should also
ensure that the animals are representative of their countries and reflect positively on

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.


About Take Five

Take Five seeks to invigorate the Public Diplomacy discussion with contributions from a wide range of authors, from experienced Public Diplomacy figures to scholars and young professionals newly venturing into the field. We are venue for fresh ideas about the way that America conducts its diplomatic relations abroad and about the impact of current policies. Social Media, Digital Diplomacy, and other aspects of Global Communication are also a central focus.


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