China has intensified its focus in direction of the Arctic over the last years. According to experts, its resources and the shorter transportation routes are of the biggest national concern. Also on a political level, China has intensified the contacts to various Arctic states and started a charming offensive, also towards Denmark. In April, the Copenhagen Zoo had visitors from the Middle Kingdom: two Panda bears. But China’s gift of two giant pandas to the Copenhagen Zoo last month might have been more than just a friendly gesture. 

Panda bears are valuable gifts from China. And they also seem to like the cold.
Panda bears are valuable gifts from China. And they also seem to like the cold.

Far from free, the gift, presented to the Danish state during an official visit by Queen Margrethe II in April, is actually a form of leasing agreement that will see Copenhagen Zoo pay 10 million kroner ($1.9 million) annually to house the pair. But China experts warn that the cost may in fact be much higher if China follows its standard practice and expects something in return for the gift. “They aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Mette Holm, a long-time Danish China watcher. “This is about Greenland. The Chinese want to get their hands on raw materials and rare earths. China is looking out for its Arctic interests.”

Martin Lidegaard, the Danish foreign minister, who was also on hand during the surprise announcement, made it clear that the Chinese had not placed any conditions on the loan. Holm, though, said Denmark would likely be expected to reciprocate at some point. “Getting a Panda is a gesture of monumental proportions,” “I doubt Danes understand how big it is.”

Giving pandas to other countries in exchange for improved relations or trade deals – known as panda diplomacy – is a well-documented Chinese practice. Experts say that when China loans out the symbolic and endangered animal, it expects something in return. Kathleen Buckingham, an Oxford University scholar who has documented China’s panda diplomacy, said this appeared to be the case here. Even thought it might not have been aware of it, by accepting the panda bear, she said Denmark had indicated that it was willing to enter into an agreement with the Chinese. “Countries need to think twice about the broader consequences of agreeing to an offer to loan out a panda,” she said. “It means that China expects some form of long-term concessions.”

Panda diplomacy was taken up again in 1972 when US president Richard Nixon had visited China.
Panda diplomacy was taken up again in 1972 when US president Richard Nixon had visited China.

Panda diplomacy is an old Chinese tradition already used 1‘400 years ago. In more recent times, this tradition experienced a revival. One of the best examples dates back to 1972 when US president Richard Nixon returned from his historic visit to China with Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing… and in return presented two musk oxen to China. Since 1984 however, the animals are no mere gifts anymore, but a 10-year loan as a symbol for the relationships between China and the receiving country.

Source: Andreas Lindkvist, The Arctic Journal,  http://arcticjournal.com