As Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Seoul with two goodwill Panda cubs, China’s “Panda Diplomacy” came under the spotlight again.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a joint press conference on July 3 that South Korea welcomes the pandas with President Xi’s visit to Korea.
“The pandas will be loved by the Korean people as a symbol of the bilateral friendship, along with the crested ibises that arrived here last year,” she said.
China first gave pandas to South Korea in 1994, shortly after the two countries established diplomatic relations.
However, the Asian financial crisis forced South Korea send pandas back to China due to their high upkeep costs.
China has “leased” pandas, which are endangered species, to many other countries.
It costs about $1 million a year to rent pandas from China, and the animals can consume almost 40 kg of bamboo shoots every day.
Panda diplomacy traces back to 1941 when Chiang Kai-shek gave a panda to the United States to thank it for its support in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
One of the most famous examples of panda diplomacy took place in 1972 when China sent two panda cubs to the U.S. to celebrate then-President Richard Nixon’s visit to China.
As this example underscores, Chinese pandas have played an important role in improving diplomatic relations between China and other countries.
When a Washington D.C.-born panda cub became hundredth days old last year, high level politicians from both the U.S. and China gathered together for celebration.
“We are thrilled to welcome this little cub, a cub who exemplifies both the common bond between our nations, and the bright future of this magnificent species,” Michelle Obama, America’s first lady, said at the ceremony.
China also sent pandas to Japan in 1972 when they established diplomatic relations, and the UK, France, Germany, and Mexico were given pandas from China as well.
China even sent Pandas to Taiwan five years ago in an attempt to improve relationship between two countries.
However, not everyone is thrilled by the gift.
Pandas that were given to Belgium in February of this year caused a conflict between the northern and southern parts of the country.
The conflict started when North Belgium, dominated by Dutch-speaking people, and South Belgium, where most of people speak French, argued over where to house the pandas.
Eventually the pandas were placed in the southern part of the country despite the objections of northerners.
China considers pandas a “national treasure,” and there are only around 1,600 of them left worldwide.