Tai Shan (almost two years old), born in Washington DC, National Zoological Park (Fernando Revilla)
By: Ollie Chessen
Moving forward under the new administration, one of the most important foreign relationships for the United States is with China. The US-China relationship has been rocky for some time: the US’s role in disputes in the South China Sea and over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands have upset political leaders in China. More recently, in the South China Sea, the US Navy has made a strong show of military force by sailing its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the USS Stethem, to “conduct routine operations.” Additionally, President Trump’s decision to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in order to reduce job losses in American production and manufacturing has opened the door for China to seize control over trade in the Pacific region. Senator John McCain explained that Trump’s decision “will create an opening for China to rewrite the economic rules of the road at the expense of American workers.” As a result of economic and political conflicts of interest, diplomatic interactions with China are an important part of American foreign policy. Interestingly, the relationship between the United States and China can be seen and understood from the unique perspective of “Panda Diplomacy.”
Perhaps the most monopolized commodity by a single country is China’s giant panda bears. The natural habitat of these pandas exists entirely within the border of China, and because of this, China has long used the famous creature as a tool of foreign policy. On various occasions from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, China sent pandas to countries as a “no strings attached” gift. However, since pandas have been declared endangered, China has used them as highly profitable loans, both financially and politically.
On the financial side, each panda costs one million US dollars per year, and, in the event of an offspring, there is an additional $400,000 “cub tax.” The twelve pandas in the US alone generate $12 million a year for China. On the political side, pandas are a mechanism for the Chinese Government to communicate and display its relationship with a certain country. Because panda loan agreements stipulate that each panda and their offspring belongs exclusively to China, at any point a panda can be sent back to China. In the US, for example, a panda named Tai Shan (泰山) was brought back to China soon after two key actions of former President Obama: when Obama met with the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government’s biggest critic on the conflict in Tibet, and when the United States agreed to an arms deal with Taiwan despite China’s objections.
The previous events and conditions of China’s panda diplomacy in regards to the US could very well repeat in the event of a major incident that shifts the current political dynamic between the two countries. However, President Trump will undoubtedly put the interest of his country over another, despite the US possibly having to bear unfortunate consequences.