During a dinner for business executives at the APEC summit in San Francisco on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping hinted that pandas from his country may be returning to zoos in California.

Pandas were returned to China from the San Diego Zoo in 2019 and from the Memphis Zoo in April, as the Deseret News previously reported. Then earlier this month, pandas left the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., according to CBS.

English and Australian zoos will have to say goodbye to their pandas as well if their existing agreements aren’t extended.

During his speech Wednesday, Xi said, “I learned that the San Diego Zoo and the Californians very much look forward to welcoming pandas back.”

“Pandas have long been envoys of friendship between the Chinese and the U.S. We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,” he added.

Xi also said, “China never bets against the United States and never interferes in its internal affairs. China has no intention to challenge the United States or to unseat it. Instead, we will be glad to see a confident, open, ever growing and prosperous United States.”

He requested that U.S. officials regard China with mutual respect. He said, “The United States should not bat against China or interfere in China’s internal affairs. It should instead welcome a peaceful, stable and prosperous China.”

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What is panda diplomacy?

Since the seventh century, China has gifted pandas to other countries to symbolize the connection between the two nations, as the Deseret News previously reported.

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China has used pandas as diplomatic gifts to the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, France and others, but, after a policy change in 1984, the pandas were considered leased to other countries, not permanently given.

Chee Meng Tan, who has studied China’s “panda diplomacy” at the University of Nottingham, explained that China taking back their animals “is perhaps Beijing’s way of signaling to the West that they may not be very happy with how things are going,” to The Washington Post.

During his speech on Wednesday, Xi criticized the Biden administration for referring to his country as a “strategic threat.”

“If one sees the other side as a primary competitor, the most consequential geopolitical challenge and a pacing threat, it will only lead to misinformed policymaking, misguided actions and unwanted results,” he said. “China is ready to be a partner and friend of the United States.”

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