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Panda diplomacy

By Jonathan Jones | China.org | Updated: 2011-08-15 10:53

Instantly recognizable, the panda is so much more than an endangered bamboo-eating bear. Adored by kids and adults the world over it has been adopted as a symbol for conservation organizations and has proved to be a merchandiser's dream by inspiring cuddly toy sales by the billions.'

There is more than a touch of irony in the fact that while the future for the lovable low-libido panda is far from certain, it is doing it's best to help mankind find common ground for improving international relations.

Ironic because less than a century has passed since trophy hunters from the west were more interested in shooting the animal than saving the species. Enlightenment may have come late but it duly arrived, by the time man had started massacring each other in the second world war they had at least stopped hunting the panda for trophies.

Following the carnage and subsequent political division of the globe the black eyed bear came into it's own as a bearer of the olive branch. Being able to travel where diplomats feared to tread it kept channels of communication open when dogma and mistrust threatened to close them completely.

Although there are reports of pandas being sent abroad as far back as the 7th century the province of Sichuan began the modern initiative in 1945 when Lien Ho the panda was sent on a trip to London. Although he lived for only four years his presence created such a stir that he was followed in 1958 by Chi Chi. She was the unquestionable star of the zoo for the next 14 years and carved out a place in the hearts of a generation of Londoners.

Pandas have ever since been dispatched on similar goodwill missions to various cities, both east and west, regardless of beliefs or affiliations.

Scotland is scheduled to be the next country blessed with the panda's presence. The plan has taken over four years to come to fruition since the idea was first mooted back in 2006 but for the residents of the city of Edinburgh the wait will surely have been worth it.

However behind all the cooing and photogenic moments there is a serious purpose to the visit. A mutual trade agreement signed at the time of the announcement just scratches the surface. The benefit to all concerned cannot simply be weighed in terms of increased retail sales or industrial output alone. Politicians may have signed the deal but there is a far wider connection, on a much more ordinary level. Panda appeal is universal, concern for the animal unites all citizens regardless of nationality, class or political persuasion.

The species desperate plight has been brought about by the follies of man and for all of our sakes, we should be grateful it proved resilient to the onslaught we subjected it to.

If these creatures had been lost, the black white paw of diplomacy would never have been extended and the world today would be a far more dangerous place for us all to co-exist.

The author is a communications professional, film maker and published writer with a keen interest in life.

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