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The Ethics of Panda Diplomacy: Should Endangered Species Be Used for Political Gain?

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For decades, the giant panda has symbolized diplomacy between China and the United States. This practice dates back to 1972 when the two countries normalized their relationship, and China gifted two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to the U.S. National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Since then, China has continued to send pandas to the U.S. as a sign of goodwill and friendship. According to the Smithsonian's National Zoo, 27 pandas from China have been sent to the U.S., including the recent pair, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who have been residing there since 2000.

It's worth noting that the use of pandas as a diplomatic tool has been subject to controversy. First, the diplomacy of panda has monetary value involved. Rather than provided as a gift, it is more like a loan where an international organization pays between $500K to $1M to keep the panda(s) for a few years. In recent years, there has been a growing sentiment among some Chinese netizens that sending pandas to the U.S. is outdated and unnecessary. Some have even accused both U.S. and China of using the pandas for political gain and have called for an end to the practice.

The recent death of Le Le at the Memphis Zoo has only added fuel to this fire, with some netizens expressing anger and frustration at the U.S. and calling for an end to the panda exchanges. This sentiment has also been echoed by some Chinese officials, who have suggested that China should reconsider its policy of sending pandas abroad.

(Image of Le Le, the panda under the care of Memphis Zoo. The zoo is accused of malnutrition and abuse of the giant panda. )

While the exact cause of Le Le's death is not yet known, he had been experiencing health issues for some time. Some experts believe that the stress of living in captivity may have contributed to his decline. In addition, the passing of Le Le has reminded us of the potential consequences of removing animals from their natural habitat.

While pandas are undoubtedly beloved by people around the world, it's important to remember that they are wild animals that belong in their natural habitats. Removing them from their homes and placing them in zoos or other facilities can be incredibly stressful for them and can lead to physical and mental health problems.

Furthermore, using animals as diplomatic gifts can also be problematic. While it may seem like a friendly gesture, it can also perpetuate the idea that animals are objects to be used for political gain rather than living beings deserving of respect and protection. Especially the giant pandas are seen as a national treasure by Chinese citizens.

Lastly, while the use of pandas as a symbol of diplomacy between China and the United States has a long and complex history, we must also consider the well-being of these animals and the impact of removing them from their natural habitats. It is our responsibility to protect these magnificent creatures and ensure that they can thrive in their own environments to preserve their existence for generations to come.


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