China Reignites Panda Diplomacy With Gift To Washington's National Zoo

All three giant pandas at Washington’s zoo — Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who arrived in 2000, and their three-year-old cub Xiao Qi Ji — returned to China last November.
China has reinitiated Panda Diplomacy
China has reinitiated Panda DiplomacyREPRESENTATIVE

China is set to send giant pandas to Washington’s National Zoo, marking a new chapter in panda diplomacy between the two superpowers, US First Lady Jill Biden and officials announced on Wednesday. Bao Li and Qing Bao will arrive in the United States before the end of the year under a decade-long breeding and research agreement, the zoo confirmed in a statement celebrating the return of these beloved animals.

"We are excited for children near and far to once again enjoy the giant pandas’ adorable and joyful adventures at our @NationalZoo," First Lady Jill Biden posted on X.

Amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, the United States currently houses only a handful of the iconic black and white bears. The last three pandas at the national zoo in Washington left six months ago. However, President Xi Jinping, following a summit with President Joe Biden in California last November, stated that China could send new pandas as "envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people."

The White House expressed enthusiasm about the return of the bamboo-chewing bears. "We’re thrilled to announce the next chapter of our breeding and conservation partnership begins by welcoming two new bears, including a descendent of our beloved panda family, to Washington DC," said Brandie Smith of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. She emphasized that this historic moment showcases the positive impact of collaboration with Chinese colleagues.

China has practiced "panda diplomacy" since 1972, beginning with the gift of pandas to the United States following then-president Richard Nixon's visit to China. However, strained relations in recent years have led to the recall of some pandas to China.

Return of the Beloved Pandas

All three giant pandas at Washington’s zoo — Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who arrived in 2000, and their three-year-old cub Xiao Qi Ji — returned to China last November. The last remaining US-based pandas, located at a zoo in Atlanta, are also scheduled to return to China later this year. Nonetheless, China announced plans in February to send a pair to the San Diego Zoo.

The two pandas arriving in Washington, both two years old, were born at a conservation center in Sichuan, China. Bao Li, a male whose name means "treasure" and "energetic," is the offspring of a renowned Washington panda family. His mother, Bao Bao, was born at the capital’s zoo in 2013, and his grandparents served as species ambassadors from 2000 to 2023. Qing Bao, a female, has a name that means "green" and "treasure."

The pandas will undergo a 30-day quarantine in their new habitat, monitored by keepers, nutritionists, and veterinarians. They will then have additional weeks to acclimate before their public debut, which will be announced later, the zoo said.

"After welcoming close to 26 million visitors last year, up 16 percent from the previous year, we can’t wait to welcome two more," Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser posted on X. "Bao Li and Qing Bao – look forward to seeing you soon!"

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