50 years later, some doubt the value of US-China ‘panda diplomacy’
In part because of the central role they play in US-China geopolitics, pandas have enjoyed quality medical care and breeding and research efforts at facilities around the world. US zoos have, in turn, benefited from the increased foot traffic and revenue generated by pandas, helping to offset the cost of acquiring and keeping the animals.
In 2016, the giant panda was removed from the list of threatened species and upgraded to “vulnerable” status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As the panda’s survival prospects have improved, experts said, China’s approach to panda diplomacy has changed, with the animals serving more as a shield for China’s human rights abuses and as a tool to project smooth power.
Susan Shirk, president of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego, said if Ms Mace’s bill passes it could harm “mutually beneficial” collaboration among conservationists. pandas from all over the world.
“Panda breeding should be done on the basis of science,” she said, “rather than using it as some kind of leverage.”
Dan Ashe, president and chief executive of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said his organization did not support Ms Mace’s bill.
“This legislation would risk ending a long-standing program that has helped conserve wild pandas,” he said in a statement Monday.
The San Diego Zoo had pandas from 1996 until 2019, when its contract with China ended. Donald Lindburg, the zoo’s former director of giant panda research, said the animals’ enduring appeal to both the zoo and its visitors was simple.
“They were very popular and many, many people came to see them,” he said. “They are beautiful.”