Jose Luis Magana/AP
SAN FRANCISCO — Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China will send new pandas to the United States, calling them “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people.”
“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation and do our best to accommodate the wishes of Californians to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,” Xi said on Wednesday. a dinner with business leaders. .
The gesture comes at the end of a day in which Xi and President Biden held their first face-to-face meeting in a year and pledged to try to reduce tensions. Xi did not share additional details about when and where the pandas might be provided, but appeared to suggest that the next pair of pandas would most likely come to California, probably San Diego.
Bears have long been the symbol of US-China friendship since Beijing gifted a pair of pandas to the National Zoo in Washington in 1972, before the normalization of bilateral relations. Beijing later loaned the pandas to other U.S. zoos, with the profits going to panda conservation programs.
The three giant pandas from the national zoo, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub Xiao Qi Ji, began their long journey to China eight days ago. After their departure, there are only four pandas left in the United States, at Zoo Atlanta.
“I was told that many Americans, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas and were going to the zoo to accompany them,” Xi said in his speech. He added that he learned that the San Diego Zoo and the people of California “are very eager to welcome the pandas back.”
Xi is in California to attend a summit of Indo-Pacific leaders and for his meeting with Biden. He made no mention of pandas during his public remarks earlier in the day as he met with Biden.
When bilateral relations began to deteriorate in recent years, Chinese citizens began demanding the return of the giant pandas. Unproven allegations that U.S. zoos mistreated pandas, known as China’s “national treasure,” have flooded Chinese social media.
But relations showed signs of stabilizing when Xi traveled to San Francisco to meet with Biden. The two met for about four hours Wednesday at the picturesque historic Filoli House and Garden, where they agreed to cooperate in the fight against narcotics, resume high-level military communications and expand exchanges between peoples.
The exchange agreement between the National Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association was set to expire in early December and negotiations to renew or extend the agreement have not yielded results.
The San Diego Zoo returned its pandas in 2019, and the Memphis, Tennessee Zoo’s last bear returned home earlier this year.
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