IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Are the pandas coming back? China's Xi Jinping surprised the White House

The Biden administration viewed Chinese President Xi Jinping's hint of sending more pandas to the U.S. as a “goodwill gesture,” a senior administration official said.
Xi Jinping and Joe Biden
Xi Jinping and Joe Biden in the gardens at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, Calif., on Wednesday.Doug Mills / The New York Times pool via AP

SAN FRANCISCO — While there were plenty of major global issues on the agenda for President Joe Biden’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, the suggestion of sending new pandas to the U.S. was not on the list and did not come up during the talks, a senior administration official said.

So when Xi announced at a dinner with business leaders later in the evening that China was “ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation,” it came as a surprise to the White House.

Xi indicated that China would “do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties" between the two countries, and he even referred to the San Diego Zoo as a potential home for future pandas. 

The U.S. viewed the comments as a “goodwill gesture,” the senior administration official said, after Biden and Xi had spent more than four hours together in their first face-to-face meeting in a year. The official said the panda news was not planned or choreographed beforehand with the White House.

Xi referred to the pandas as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples,” but he did not share additional details about when or how the next steps would take place.

Three giant pandas left the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., last week, traveling from Dulles International Airport on a FedEx flight to Chengdu, China, a roughly 19-hour journey.

“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,” Xi said Wednesday. 

There are still some pandas in the U.S. at Zoo Atlanta, but they are set to depart next year if the deal is not extended. The panda agreements are made between the Chinese government and American zoos, without the direct involvement of the U.S. government.

The San Diego Zoo said it did not have any kind of heads-up that Xi would refer to them in his remarks. 

“We are excited to hear of President Xi’s commitment in continuing the giant panda conservation efforts between our two countries, and his attention to the wish of Californians and the San Diego Zoo to see the return of giant pandas,” Paul A. Baribault, the president and chief executive of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, said in a statement. 

“Conservation starts with people, and our team is committed to working with our partners to welcome the next generation of giant pandas to our zoo, continuing our joint efforts in wildlife conservation, and inspiring millions worldwide to protect the planet we all share,” he said.

Two pandas left San Diego and returned to China in 2019 after many years there.