China, pandas from Edinburgh Zoo return home: sign of diplomatic crisis?

According to analysts, there could be a hand in Beijing’s ‘panda diplomacy’, and the choice to recall the only two specimens from Great Britain could be a sign of cooling of diplomatic relations

There is unusual traffic at Edinburgh Zoo, where tourists from all over Great Britain are arriving to pay a final farewell to Yang Guang and Tian Tian, ​​the two pandas who are now about to return to China after 12 years. Antennas raised for analysts, write the British media, as Beijing’s ‘panda diplomacy’ could also have a hand in Scotland, and the choice to recall the only two specimens from Great Britain could be a sign of a cooling of diplomatic relations.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are just the latest pandas to leave the West after swap deals expired without being renewed by China. After failed attempts at both natural and artificial reproduction, the zoo declared that it has no plans for the arrival of other specimens because the global biodiversity crisis requires it to work to protect a greater number of animals at risk.

Last month the United States also had to say goodbye to the three beloved pandas of the National Zoo in Washington. A similar fate will befall the Atlanta specimens next year, the last ones left in the USA. The San Diego Zoo’s pandas were sent home in 2019, and the last surviving panda from the Memphis Zoo returned home earlier this year. However, during his recent trip to the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping revived the hope of American fans, declaring himself “ready to continue” lending bears to American zoos.

What might have seemed like a simple joke from Xi on the sidelines of the meeting in San Francisco with his American counterpart Joe Biden actually attracted the attention of many analysts attentive to the Dragon’s strategies. In fact, ‘panda diplomacy’ has, over the years, proven to be a reliable litmus test of the state of Beijing’s diplomatic relations. Panda loan contracts to international zoos have largely been signed at the height of bilateral relations or to celebrate particular events. Likewise, the choice not to renew the agreements and recall the animals is often seen as a negative signal or a cooling off of the dialogue.