When Chinese President Xi Jinping made allusions last night to continuing a wildlife conservation relationship between the People’s Republic of China and United States, fans of the giant panda rejoiced Thursday.
While Xi’s comments — made at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco on Wednesday night — are far from guaranteeing the return of pandas to the U.S., the fact that the president mentioned California in his remarks spurred a response from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.
“We are excited to hear of President Xi’s commitment in continuing the giant panda conservation efforts between our two countries, and his attention to the wish of Californians and the San Diego Zoo to see the return of giant pandas,” said Paul A. Baribault, president and CEO of the wildlife alliance. “Conservation starts with people, and our team is committed to working with our partners to welcome the next generation of giant pandas to our zoo, continuing our joint efforts in wildlife conservation, and inspiring millions worldwide to protect the planet we all share.”
The San Diego Zoo said goodbye to its pandas — Bai Yun, a 23-year zoo resident, and her then-6-year-old son Xiao Liwu — in 2019. Giant pandas are all property of the PRC, allowing the country to loan and reclaim the bears.
White House spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the return of panda diplomacy would be welcomed.
“He indicated a willingness to think about returning some of them. We obviously appreciated having them here. And we respect the sovereign decision that China made to remove some of the pandas,” Kirby said at a news briefing. “And certainly should a decision be made by the PRC to restore some of the pandas to the United States, we would absolutely welcome them back.”
Last week, the last three remaining giant pandas in the United States left the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on a 19-hour, 9,000-mile journey on a FedEx cargo jet to Chengdu, China.