China’s “Panda Diplomacy” and China-EU relations


Just in time for our week of readings focusing on Chinese Public diplomacy efforts comes the first visit of a Chinese leader, President Xi Jingping, to European Union institutions in Brussels! Originally for this blog post, I wanted to focus on the Melisson and Cross piece for the Clingendael Institute about how the EU can address its own PD dilemma, but I’ll have to save that for later, because I ran across this priceless article that I think perfectly illustrates China’s “charm offensive” approach to Public Diplomacy:

Two pandas (Xing Hui and Hao Hao) are being used as official envoys for China; they were sent to visit a Belgian zoo a month ahead of Xi’s visit, partly in order to send a message to the EU that China is willing to take a less confrontational stance on trade issues and ready to resolve trade disputes. One of the top items of President Xi’s agenda in Europe is pushing the EU to consider a massive free-trade deal with China. Interestingly, the visit of the two furry ambassadors has had some unintended diplomatic consequences; it has irritated long standing regional rivalries in Belgium. The pandas are being housed in a zoo in the French-speaking region of Wallonia (hometown of Belgian PM Elio di Rupo), which has angered the largest zoo in the country, located in Dutch-speaking Flanders, and caused separatist Flanders politician Bart de Waver to show up on a TV talk show dressed as a panda!

It remains to be seen whether Xi’s desire to show a softer, fuzzier side of China to the EU will have its intended effect: it’s being reported that most of the EU member states have resisted Chinese pressure to include references to a joint-trade pact in the joint statement that will be released after Xi’s visit with leaders in Brussels.


12 thoughts on “China’s “Panda Diplomacy” and China-EU relations”

  1. Monika, thanks for this interesting article and analysis. I was also going to blog about Panda Diplomacy this week – you beat me to it! 🙂

    The fact that China utilizes pandas as a means of achieving its soft diplomacy is certainly an interesting tactic. According to an article I read in the Helsinki Times, China has historically used pandas as a way of interacting and connecting with foreign nations since the 1940s. In fact, during World War II, the ascendant nationalist party in China gave a panda to the Bronx Zoo as a gift in order to thank the United States for its assistance during the War (

    Michelle Obama was in China earlier this month with her daughters and mother, and they were able to admire the pandas at the Giant Panda Research Base in Chengdu. According to the article: “Michelle Obama became the latest in a long line of American government officials to be wooed by this country’s cute and cuddly panda diplomacy.” In fact, according to the International Business Times, the First Lady gave a glowing review of her time at the Panda Base, and noted the importance of China’s panda diplomacy. She stated: “It’s a goodwill offering – a way to reach out and build a connection between two countries and their people.” (

    Li Mingjiang explores the notion of panda diplomacy as a tool for soft power in China in his article. He explains while soft power is a key strategy within many Chinese policies, it has not been widely acknowledged or recognized by other nations across the globe. This can be explained by the fact that as Mingjiang mentions, China’s soft power differs significantly from Nye’s conception of soft power, the goal of which is to achieve foreign policy ends. Through its soft power and panda diplomacy, China’s primary focus is on domestic endeavors, and is mostly utilized to foster a more positive image of China to the world. Mingjiang believes that Chinese soft power is only in its “embryonic phase,” and has a long way to go in promoting successful and effective strategies abroad.

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