Pandas. Giant pandas!

News that the US and China have agreed to resume military-to-military communications to reduce the chances of starting World War III quite rightly made the headlines, but…Pandas!

Following four hours of talks with President Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a speech to almost 400 business leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla’s Elon Musk. In it he described pandas as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people”. A pair of pandas are now expected to be sent to San Diego Zoo.

You may think this is frippery, but bear with me. Pandas have been a symbol of friendship between the US and China since the first ones were sent to the National Zoo in Washington in 1972 ahead of the normalisation of relations. During the last few years, as the relationship soured, social media in China was awash with unfounded allegations that the animals were being mistreated and people demanded their return. One by one they went home and now only four remain. Reversing this trend is symbolic of signs of stabilisation in the Washington/Beijing relationship. It frames the military communications breakthrough and other agreements which came out of the Biden/Xi meeting.