New Trier Political Journal

New Trier Political Journal

Communism’s Strangest Strongarm: The Span of the CCP’s Panda Diplomacy

The San Diego Union-Tribune
Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party utilizes panda puppets and stickers to ask Taipei City Zoo to change the names of their leased giant pandas to “Freedom,” “Democracy,” or “Independence”

As tensions rise between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, many American citizens are moving closer to separating themselves from a regime that manufactures products made with Uighur slave labor and pumping Chinese fentanyl onto our urban street corners. Instead, however, something odder has vanished from the American landscape. That being the disappearance of the giant panda bear from zoos across the country. Under order of the Chinese government, all pandas that have been given to the U.S. will be returned to China by early 2024. But why pandas? Of everything that could be taken away, why was it them?

The reason behind the sudden removal of panda bears comes from a diplomatic measure known as “panda diplomacy.” This unique diplomatic practice had humble origins in pre-communist China under the nationalist government of the Kuomintang, which sent two pandas to the U.S. as an expression of gratitude for giving aid to China while they were under attack from the Imperial Japanese, which was later continued under communism when Mao Zedong overthrew the Kuomintang. This practice would only grow under the next CCP leader, Deng Xiaoping, where the practice spread to more areas of the world, such as Europe and Qatar. Some of which are also losing their pandas today along with the U.S. But, most importantly, Deng adjusted the concept of panda diplomacy, instead of being gifted, the pandas were instead “loaned” for a 10-year period.

However, most of the pandas that are being taken weren’t even given in the first place; they are the offspring of the original pandas born in the countries they were leant to. By these circumstances, the pandas would be “citizens” of the countries they reside, however, the Chinese Communist Party believes many things to be under its ownership even when it doesn’t belong to it. For example, multiple ASEAN territories, the certain “rebelling province” of Taiwan, and even anyone with Chinese ancestry born overseas. Pandas are simply no different to the CCP’s exploitative diplomatic ventures. Regardless of the circumstances, pandas were used as an asset to take advantage of any country unfortunate enough to rope themselves into this diplomatic nuisance.

Some of the more unknown features of panda diplomacy involved the heavy cost of owning a panda. Most zoos were paying up to $1,000,000 a year to the Chinese state! In total, this diplomatic tribute raked in a total of $300,000,000 for China. And if anything happened to the zoo’s leased pandas, reparations would be paid to the Chinese government, only adding onto the expenses. 

This isn’t the pandas’ first time being confiscated by China, though. Whenever a country under the lease of panda diplomacy did something that upset the CCP, the Communist Party responded by taking away the country’s pandas. Back in 2010, the U.S. had their panda’s confiscated by China after President Obama met with the Dalai Lama. And again towards Malaysia in 2013, when the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s disappearance caused tensions to rise between the two countries, China withheld Malaysia’s newly leased pandas. This “diplomatic measure” is being used more as a threat by the CCP. If you upset the CCP, they will take away your prized pandas as retaliation.

With the exuberant costs and the comically surface level political leveraging, it is easy to see how this diplomatic practice of gift-giving has morphed into a more bad-spirited practice. However, this isn’t the only advantageous front the Chinese Communist Party is operating. There are many more just like panda diplomacy, some of which have bled deeply into western society.

One such example of CCP fronts are Confucius Institutes. While uncommon these days, Confucius Institutes used to dot the educational landscape in the early 2000s. Universities would welcome these CCP created programs to promote the surface level mission of promoting Chinese culture, supporting Chinese teaching, and participating in cultural exchanges. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? It wouldn’t be if there wasn’t an ulterior motive to them. Some of the activities and lessons taught in Confucius Institutes were heavily biased and skewed in favor of the CCP. According to Ian Oxnevad, a senior fellow at the National Association of Scholars, Confucius Institutes are “looking on shaping the views of future policy-makers and key individuals in America in the future by shaping the views of the students today.” CCP officials themselves can back up the statement, because in the words of a senior leader of the CCP, Li Changchun, Confucius Institutes are an “important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” 

On a more concerning note, many Confucius Institutes are used to harass and monitor Chinese dissidents from overseas. The CCP uses the institutes as a front to target Tibetan, Uighur, and especially Falun Gong spiritualists. A former Chinese diplomat turned whistleblower, Chen Yonglin, described his actions to persecute the dissidents: “We monitored the activity and found out their connection with some practitioners still in China and collected their names and all their personal information and photos and even the car plate and all this information and then sent back to China to the Ministry of State Security.” These institutes didn’t stop at skewing information and indoctrinating western students to authoritarian values, they worked as active espionage sites for an oppressive government!

Unfortunately, the CCP’s influence isn’t limited to the West’s zoos and university campuses. Due to our dependence on the People’s Republic of China, these strong arms are deeply rooted into our society. The 2024 New Year’s celebration in New York, one of the sponsoring organizations was the Sino-American Friendship Association, a CCP front organization dedicated to advancing communist interests onto nations overseas. Western companies still root themselves in China, taking advantage of the cheap slave labor in factories in the Xinjiang province, all the while lobbying the government for friendlier ties with the CCP, despite all its wrongdoings. The West’s relationship with China is corrupted, too corrupted, working to benefit a hostile authoritarian regime rather than its original intention of building diplomatic trust with the exchange of exotic national animals.

It’s time for the collective nations of the world to cease dealing with the CCP. Even if it does mean the loss of pandas. 

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Billy Stromberg
Billy Stromberg, Staff Writer

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    Charles Hutchinson
    Feb 2, 2024 at 11:55 am

    Nice job. An enlightened view of Panda Diplomacy, and I didn’t realize that China was taking back 2nd generation pandas.