Terence Blacker: Pandas - the world's most political animal

Panda diplomacy has always been a squalid business

Share

With its cute and comical look, and its two lovely black eyes, the panda makes a great symbol. Just over 50 years ago, its image was chosen for the newly created World Wildlife Fund. Today, it symbolises an altogether uglier reality, closer to human cynicism than animal conservation. This week, it was announced that the two giant pandas hired by the Edinburgh Zoo from the Chinese government at a cost of £460,000 a year will be available for VIP visits. For £1,000, guests can have drinks, canapés and the chance to feed these luckless animals some bamboo.

There have been the usual unconvincing denials of financial motives. This is "not about extra money", the zoo's chief executive has said, adding, in what would seem something of a self-contradiction, that his organisation "receives no extra funding".

Panda diplomacy, the use of rare, delicate mammals as part of deals between humans, has always been a squalid business. When, in 2011, after a campaign involving senior politicians and the Royal Family, the Chinese agreed to loan two pandas to Edinburgh Zoo, the country's ambassador inaccurately described the deal as "a gift to the people of the UK from China".

The SNP was happy to play along with this lie – at least until it was taken to task this spring by the Advertising Standards Authority. What Alex Salmond had described in 2008 as "a commercial arrangement" was cynically presented in a series of advertisements as an act of "gifting", a "unique gesture of friendship".

It was neither a gift nor was it particularly unique: the Chinese have become adept at greasing the wheels of trade by shipping pandas across the world. Apart from the dishonest PR, there has always been something whiffy about this. Last week, after Canada did a similar deal with China to that done by Scotland, journalists asked to see the full memorandum of agreement. This was denied, bizarrely under a law protecting the country's national security.

The conservation argument, invariably deployed by politicians, is equally suspect. Alex Salmond once promised that, if Edinburgh landed the panda deal, "research will be carried out specifically in the field of oncology – an area of expertise in Scotland". Little has been heard of this claim recently, and it is anyway fairly meaningless. The only panda to have been released from captivity was quickly killed by wild pandas. The species, in other words, is being conserved exclusively for human enjoyment.

Admittedly, pandas serve their diplomatic purpose. Soon after the new arrivals were brought to Edinburgh, Salmond and his ministers expertly avoided offending their Chinese pals by absenting themselves during a visit by the Dalai Lama. The Scots gain, and so do the Chinese. It is the pandas, and the cause of conservation, which suffer.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory