China's panda diplomacy helps strengthen ties with Europe
Jiao Qing, one of the two pandas that recently arrived in Berlin, makes himself comfortable during the visit of the two national leaders. [Photo/Agencies]
When Xi Jinping made his first visit to the European Union as Chinese president in early 2014, he inaugurated a panda garden in Pairi Daiza, a zoo about 60 kilometers away from Brussels, with Belgium's King Philippe.
It is noteworthy that panda diplomacy was also a highlight during Xi's second state visit to Germany, in Hamburg in July this year. During the trip, as well as attending the G20 summit, Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan welcomed two Chinese pandas to Berlin Zoo together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband.
It means Xi's European diplomacy between the 18th and 19th National Congresses of the Communist Party of China was kicked off and wrapped up with pandas.
Apart from those diplomatic arrangements, when President Xi visited Finland in April, the Nordic country entered into agreement for the loan of two pandas from China. Shortly after that, in May, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen visited Chengdu in Sichuan province, which is the hometown of pandas, and visited two of the pandas that are expected to arrive in his country soon. Two pandas also arrived in the Netherlands during the first half of this year.
The United Kingdom, France, Spain and Austria already have pandas in their zoos, which have attracted hundreds of millions of visitors over the previous decades.
The arrival of pandas usually boosts zoo visitor numbers. And many Europeans have been encouraged to visit China after seeing the pandas in European zoos.
The implications of panda diplomacy are enormous. Possibly, no other animals in the world have shouldered the responsibility of being messengers of peace.
And peace is the overarching aim of China's diplomacy, as highlighted in a speech Xi made in the College of Europe in Brugge in Belgium in 2014 when on his first European tour as Chinese president.
Xi called for the EU and China to establish a partnership of peace, growth, reform and civilization. Recently, former European Union president Herman Van Rompuy mentioned that his grandchildren loved the pandas in the Belgian zoo and he himself was still impressed by President Xi's speech.
As the situation in some regions and areas is becoming increasingly unpredictable, China's diplomatic message of building trust and deepening partnerships has been warmly welcomed by the international community.
It is estimated that there are about 2,000 pandas in China, mainly living in China's Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. And on average, it costs about 10 million euros ($11.82 million) to construct a panda home. European countries are helping with efforts to protect them, since every year, those countries that have organized the loans of pandas pay annual fees of about one million dollars for the loan of a couple of the endangered bears.
However, when looking at the European map, pandas from China have mainly settled down in the West and Northern Europe, perhaps the residents in countries in Central and Eastern Europe will soon be excited by the arrival of pandas in their zoos as China's relations with these countries continue to strengthen. Although it takes time to negotiate the terms of a panda loan, up to 10 years in some instances.
The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau.