China's practice of gifting and loaning giant pandas has been given new impetus as a result of damage to panda-conservation facilities caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and China's rise as an economic power. We suggest that a new, third phase of panda diplomacy is under way that is distinct from the previous two. Phase 1 during the Mao era (in the 1960s and 1970s) took the form of China gifting pandas to build strategic friendships. Phase 2 followed Deng Xiaoping's rise to power in 1978 when gifts became gift loans involving a capitalist lease model based on financial transactions. In the emerging phase 3, panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and technology and symbolize China's willingness to build guanxi—namely, deep trade relationships characterized by trust, reciprocity, loyalty, and longevity. Notable is the correlation of guanxi loan deals with nations supplying resources and technologies to China in the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in panda habitat. As captive breeding resumes with the completion of repairs to the earthquake-damaged Wolong Breeding center, we predict that panda diplomacy will increase and that panda conservation, more than ever, will be the outcome of a complex, dynamic interplay among politics, markets, and conservation science.
Environmental Practice 15:262–270 (2013)