Xi says China ready to send pandas again to US as ‘envoys of friendship’

Three pandas were recently returned to China from Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 16 November 2023 08:56

Related: Giant pandas arrive back in China after two decades at Smithsonian’s National zoo

Chinese president Xi Jinping hinted that China was willing to send new pandas to the US following a meeting with his American counterpart Joe Biden that lasted nearly four hours.

The pandas were "envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people", Mr Xi said on Wednesday during a dinner speech with business leaders in San Francisco.

"We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples," said the president, who is on his first trip to the US in six years due to sour bi-lateral ties between the two nations.

Mr Xi did not share additional details on when or where pandas might be provided but appeared to suggest the next pair of pandas are most likely to come to California, probably San Diego.

The statement comes after three giant pandas – Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub Xiao Qi Ji – were returned to China from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.

The bears have long been the symbol of US-China ties and were first gifted by Beijing to the zoo in 1972. The pandas were later loaned by Beijing to other US zoos and the proceeding went back to conservation programs.

The pandas, Mei Xiang, 25, and 26-year-old Tian Tian, were brought to the US in 2000. Their cub was born in 2020.

The panda family embarked on a 19-hour-long flight to Chengdu on 8 November. "I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas, and went to the zoo to see them off," Mr Xi said.

He added that he learned the San Diego Zoo and people in California "very much look forward to welcoming pandas back".

Mr Xi and Mr Biden sat down together on Wednesday one year after their last in-person meeting to discuss Taiwan, military ties, trade and fentanyl. Mr Xi agreed to help curb the production of the illicit fentanyl that is a deadly component of drugs sold in the US.

A senior administration official told the Associated Press that the shift will be a setback for Latin American drug dealers.

"It's going to save lives, and I appreciated President Xi's commitment on this issue," Mr Biden said at a press conference after his meeting.

In addition, Mr Biden and Mr Xi reached an agreement to resume military-to-military communications. That means defence secretary Lloyd Austin will speak with his Chinese counterpart once someone is named to the job, the official said.

Similar engagements will take place up and down the military chain of command.

The official said Mr Biden was "very clear" to Mr Xi that such communications between US and China should be institutionalised and that they are "not done as a gift or as a favor to either side".

Mr Biden said the US and China would talk more about artificial intelligence as well. "We're going to get our experts together and discuss risk and safety issues," he said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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