China’s practice of gifting and loaning giant pandas has been given new impetus as a result of damage to panda-conservation facilities caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and China’s rise as an economic power. We suggest that a new, third phase of panda diplomacy is under way that is distinct from the previous two. Phase 1 during the Mao era (in the 1960s and 1970s) took the form of China gifting pandas to build strategic friendships. Phase 2 followed Deng Xiaoping’s rise to power in 1978 when gifts became gift loans involving a capitalist lease model based on financial transactions. In the emerging phase 3, panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and technology and symbolize China’s willingness to build guanxi—namely, deep trade relationships characterized by trust, reciprocity, loyalty, and longevity.
“Although the approval has been granted, China has advised that a public announcement should wait for a suitable occasion (i.e. a senior level visit). As China has already granted approval for the loan, the risk of a change in this arrangement is low and the loan process is expected to proceed without incident.”
Just so happens that the uranium issue fit the bill.
According to Canada’s Postedia [sic] News, in 2012 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced China would be loaning Canada two pandas on the same trip that he signed an agreement expanding Canadian uranium exports to China.
The pandas do make Harper look good to the nondiscerning. But the relationship with China is complex.
And dangerous. More uranium will be mined and shipped. And more people will be harmed.