Soft (Panda) power

I’ve finished my dissertation now, but thinking is like wading through treacle. The only thing to permeate the fog (as I come back to myself) is a very interesting articles on pandas.

Yes, clearly I don’t like pandas. This is well-documented. But I hadn’t fully appreciated how they were used as a diplomatic tool by the Chinese government, which actually rents them out to trade allies. Naturally, zoos get a bump in visitor numbers, but I hadn’t realised the animals were being rented.

The Observer article has a  great quote from researcher Kathleen Buckingham:

“A new phase of panda diplomacy is under way. Panda loans are associated with nations supplying China with valuable resources and symbolise China’s willingness to build trade relationships,” said Buckingham.

She likens the loans to Asian rulers’ traditional gifts to foreign powers of rare white elephants in the knowledge that they would cost a fortune to keep but ensure closer relations. “The panda may be the modern-day white elephant – a powerful emblem of the modern Chinese nation,” she said.

So – to recap, these furry white elephants (didn’t know that was the origin of the phrase!) are an expensive, but also unreliable (phantom pregnancies) diplomatic tool.

*ponders this* Yup – still don’t like them.


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