Updated Nov 16, 2023 - World

China may send new giant pandas to U.S., Xi says

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji enjoys an ice cake at Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 21. Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

Chinese leader Xi Jinping suggested Wednesday that his country may lend more giant pandas to U.S. zoos in the future.

Why it matters: With the departure of the National Zoo's giant pandas earlier this month, the U.S. will soon be without any of the beloved bears.

  • The U.S.'s remaining two panda cubs and their parents are currently at Zoo Atlanta, but all are slated to return to China next year, the zoo said last week.

Driving the news: Xi called pandas "envoys of friendship" between China and the U.S. in remarks at a dinner with business leaders in San Francisco, AP reported.

  • "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," Xi said.
  • "I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas, and went to the zoo to see them off," he added.
  • Hinting at a possible new home for the bears, Xi added that he had "learned that the San Diego Zoo and the Californians very much look forward to welcoming pandas back," per NBC News.
  • The San Diego Zoo last had giant pandas in 2019.

Yes, but: Xi didn't specify when the pandas may arrive or how many China would send.

The big picture: For decades, China has lent pandas to zoos around the world as gestures of good will in its "panda diplomacy."

  • However, in recent years China has reined in the approach. Pandas in the U.K. are set to return to China next month and another set in Australia is also facing a possible return, the Washington Post reported.

Zoom out: Xi's remarks followed his meeting with President Biden at the APEC summit in San Francisco earlier in the day,

  • The face-to-face produced some progress on non-panda matters, including an agreement to restart military-to-military communications.

Go deeper: Charted: U.S. panda loans on "paws"

Editor's note: This was updated with additional comments Xi made.

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