Relations between China and Germany may be entering a new phase ahead of this week’s G20 Summit in Hamburg, thanks to tried-and-true panda diplomacy.
Yesterday, President Xi Jinping met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Berlin Zoo to unveil a new garden for Meng Meng (梦梦) and Jiao Qing (娇庆), a pair of giant pandas who arrived on loan from China in late June. Chinese state news agency Xinhua reports that their delivery commemorated 45 years of diplomatic relations between China and Germany, and Shi Mingde, the Chinese Ambassador to Germany, hoped that they would become “the ambassador of friendship.”
In international politics, pandas are gifted from China as tokens of friendship and diplomacy. The BBC reports that Meng Meng and Jiao Qing will officially be presented to the public at the Berlin Zoo on July 6, stating that China “has been selective in dispatching its national treasure, with about a dozen countries receiving the bears as a symbol of close relations.”
Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that “for China these bears are nearly holy, there aren’t a lot of them and they’re very very rare. Certainly it is a sign of deep friendship.”
China’s gifting of pandas began in the 1950s, but from 1983 onward the gifts came with conditions—to begin with, they’re no longer given but loaned. Hosting Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, whose names mean “Dream” and “Darling,” will cost Berlin Zoo $1 million a year, and Germany can keep them for up to 10 years. The zoo’s previous panda Bao Bao, formerly the world’s oldest male panda, had been a gift from China in 1980 and died in 2012.
The cost of renting Meng Meng and Jiao Qing will be invested in panda breeding programs by China’s Wildlife Conservation Association, making panda diplomacy both a way to maintain international ties and a source of funding for saving the threatened species.
Chancellor Merkel, according to the BBC, called the two pandas “very nice diplomats.” Xinhua agreed that “panda diplomacy is a vivid reflection of the robust growth of China-Germany relations.”
According to Reuters, Germany’s relations with China are at a critical juncture at a time of troubled relations with the US under President Donald Trump. “For Merkel, the G20 host, Xi is an ally and Trump a troublesome rival on some of the most important issues on the agenda in Hamburg—from trade and climate change to economic development in Africa,” Reuters reports.
Trade relations are also set to strengthen, with Merkel stating she had spoken with Xi about “wanting to quickly sign an investment treaty that would ultimately turn into a full-blown free-trade agreement,” according to the Independent. China Daily reported that the two world leaders signed a number of documents on Wednesday regarding trade, investment, panda protection, and aerospace.
While concerns are mounting about a clash between Trump and Merkel at the upcoming G20 Summit, President Xi told German newspaper Die Welt that China-German relations are “steadily growing in importance” in a signed article titled “To Make the World a Better Place.”
Regardless of the outcome at this week’s G20 Summit, the pressure is on for the two furry diplomats to symbolize what Xi described as “new beginnings” in relations between Germany and China.
Cover image from China Daily