Trump fails to disrupt 'panda diplomacy' as China's famed bears remain at US zoo

Donald Trump may have done his best to disrupt Washington’s relations with Beijing, but at least Americans will still be able to enjoy the original bonus of more open links with China: giant pandas.

Ever since Richard Nixon welcomed the gift of the animals when he “opened up” China in the early 70s, panda diplomacy has loomed large in relations between the two countries.

Now, despite the Trumpian turbulence over trade and insults about the coronavirus, giant pandas will remain at the Smithsonian’s national zoo in Washington for another three years under an agreement reached with Chinese wildlife officials, the zoo said on Monday.

The panda loan deal between the United States and China had been set to expire in December.

The zoo said it had signed a three-year extension with the Conservation Biology Institute and China Wildlife and Conservation Association.

Under the agreement, the zoo’s 22-year-old female giant panda Mei Xiang, 23-year-old male giant panda Tian Tian and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji, born on August 21, would go to China in December 2023.

“Along with millions of Americans, I look forward to the next three years, watching Xiao Qi Ji grow and making further strides in conservation and in our understanding of giant pandas,” said Steve Monfort, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

The zoo has hosted giant pandas from China since 1972 and Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have been at the zoo since December 2000.

Xiao Qi Ji is their fourth surviving cub. The other three were returned to China.

There are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas in the wild in China, mostly in Sichuan Province, and some 600 living in zoos and breeding centers around the world.

Trade diplomacy of a more conventional kind was also kept on track on Monday when White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump was not planning new tariffs on China before January.

“On the trade talks, we remain engaged,” Kudlow said at an event hosted by The Washington Post. “We’re not planning on any new tariffs.”

Trump launched an aggressive trade war against Beijing that involved tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in products, many of which remain in place despite a “phase one” agreement signed early this year.

Kudlow said China is living up to the initial agreement that included specific targets for purchases of agricultural products like soybeans.

“Data show this, that China is abiding by a good chunk of the phase one trade deal,” he said, adding, “They may be behind because of the pandemic situation.”

Biden last week said he would not move immediately to remove any of the tariffs Trump imposed during his four years in office, saying he would focus first on investing in American workers and manufacturing.

Once he takes office on January 20, Biden is expected to repair diplomatic relations with trading partners and allies like the European Union, which could be a solid ally in pressuring Beijing to change its behavior.