We've all heard of "panda diplomacy" — that much-heralded Chinese habit of lending pandas to countries they'd like to be close friends with. Indeed, it has been a simmering concept since Canada received our own pair of cuddly creatures earlier this year, which are now showing at the Toronto Zoo.
But the relationship between China, its pandas and those recipient countries has never been put as starkly as this.
Newsweek reported on Wednesday on a recent research paper from Oxford University that chronicles the some 50 pandas on loan to nations in exchange for "trades and foreign-investment deals."
"Panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and technology and symbolize China's willingness to build guanxi,” reads the Oxford study. “Namely, deep trade relationships characterized by trust, reciprocity, loyalty and longevity.”
Guanxi roughly means "relationship" or "influence," which makes some sense. Canada was gifted (actually, loaned at a price) two pandas earlier this year following what was described as a "thaw" in the relationship between the two countries. The "guanxi" passed immediately on to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who made a spectacle of meeting the pandas at the Toronto airport in March.
But as Newsweek points out, it wasn't just a "thaw" that coincided with the panda's arrival in Canada. A multi-billion dollar uranium-export deal between the two countries matches up awful close, chronologically speaking.
Similarly, China received salmon and petrochemicals from Scotland about the same time the Edinburgh Zoo got pandas. France, Australia, Singapore and Thailand also got pandas around the time they signed trade deals and free-trade agreements.
None of this is particularly new. China realized it could pimp out pandas as far back as the 1980s, starting with just a rental fee. An outcry forced the communist country to change its tune slightly, making future exchanges reliant on research qualities.
All is fair when it comes to pandas and international politics, but with Er Shun and Da Mao drawing in big crowds at the Toronto Zoo (eventually destined for Calgary) it is worth remembering.
If you’ve got uranium to spare to send to China, you could score your own pair of pandas.
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