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China has used its pandas to help foster relationships with other countries for more than half a century. This unique way of diplomacy has been practiced by Chinese rulers since the Tang dynasty. The Chinese view the Pandas as a national treasure.Chinese policy makers employed a soft power strategy to improve its relations with countries all over the world by gifting Pandas. These Pandas were gifted to countries like the United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union to ease tensions and to build new diplomatic relationships. Yet this all changed when the Panda’s became an endangered species. Nowpandas are only loaned to friendly, geopolitically and economically important partner countries of China. From the late 50’s to the early 80’s, China has gifted 28 pandas to nine countries.

The First Panda Diplomats
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were gifted to the United States in 1972.This was a generous gift of friendship offered to the United States by the Chinese government after the first historic state visit by an American president to People’s Republic of China. President Richard Nixon and his delegation re-opened the Sino-American partnership which thrives to this day after Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and top US diplomat Henry Kissinger laid the foundations during the height of the cold war.

Panda Loans
The role of the Panda has changed since the early 80’s.These furry animals are no longer used purely as diplomats. China offered pandas to other countries only on loans.A 10 year loan terms includes a fee of $ 1 million per year and a requirement that cubs born during the loan period be the property of the People's Republic of China.A team from the Oxford University has found out that panda loans coincided with trade deals for valuable resources and technology. This new strategy is based on a Chinese term called "guanxi" loans which is used to describe personalised networks of influence, trust, reciprocity and loyalty.

In the present day the Chinese does not use Pandas purely as diplomatic tools to capture the attention of governments but to build a relationship with citizens of foreign countries while using the finances they earn through panda loans to preserve the endangered pandas. Panda still remains one of the most important Chinese symbols and an icon of Chinese soft power.

- G.M Lahiru Chamara Doloswala