One of the places pretty high up on my ‘To Visit ASAP’ list is Edinburgh. A city full of heritage; Edinburgh castle, giant pandas, Fringe, giant pandas, Hogmanay, giant pandas, UNESCO World heritage old and new towns etc etc. And did I mentioned they have GIANT PANDAS?!
I love giant pandas. C-U-T-E with a capital C. The sole reason I haven’t yet visited Tian Tian (‘Sweetie’) and Yang Guang (‘Sunshine’) since their arrival in December 2011 is that I’m scared I may jump into their enclosure and get mauled when I try and bear hug them.
Perhaps somewhat naively, I hadn’t given much thought to how or why they arrived in the UK; I just assumed that the zoo had purchased the pandas to boost declining visitor numbers (a savvy move – visitor numbers have reportedly risen by 51% since their arrival).
In actual fact, the pandas were loaned to Edinburgh Zoo by China in a move termed ‘panda diplomacy’. A recent article by a team in Oxford, published in Environmental Practice, explains how panda diplomacy refers to the process whereby China loans out pandas in order to help foster relationships with other countries.
First observed as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907), they were revived during the Mao era of the 1960s and 1970s, deemed Phase 1 of a three phase model suggested by the recent article. Here, the pandas were ‘no strings attached’ gifts in order to build and strengthen friendships.
The rise to power of Deng Xiaoping in 1978 saw a shift into Phase 2: gifts became loans, involving financial payments and usually lasting for at least 10 years. In recent years it has become a requirement to prove that this financial gain is channeled into conservation efforts.
***Cue Jay-Z and “Big Pimpin’”***
The emergence of Phase 3 is thought to have begun in 2008, coinciding with the Sichuan earthquake whereby China’s major panda conservation centre was devastated, meaning there was an urgent requirement to re-home pandas. Subsequent panda loans have coincided with trade deals for valuable resources and technology and have been termed ‘guanxi’ loans, based upon personalized networks of trust, loyalty, influence and reciprocity. For example, shortly after Tian Tian and Yang Guang’s arrival on Scottish soil, multiple lucrative trade deals were signed between the two countries, estimated to be worth £2.6 billion ($4 billion). Further examples of such ‘guanxi’ loans can be found alongside trade deals between China and various countries including Canada, France and Australia.
To cut a long story short, China are subtly pimpin’ out their pandas for political and economic gain. But can we blame them? It’s a win win situation – they gain allies and improve conservation efforts whilst they’re at it. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of their book; instead of culling badgers why don’t we simply loan them out?! WATCH THIS SPACE…..