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As the nation, as well as the rest of the globe, departs from the haze COVID-19, the structure of society seems to be returning to its pre-pandemic state. People are revisiting the scenes and activities they enjoyed before social distancing. This includes restaurants with indoor seating and family trips to the zoo. It seems as though more has been stirring beneath the panda-monium, as issues involving panda diplomacy at international zoos arise. Judging by the hostile implications from both sides, the U.S. should distance themselves from further exchange with China in case these growing tensions are an indication of more to come.

Beijing is refusing to renew the recurring ten-year contract that has been recognized between the U.S. and China for decades. In 1972, former First Lady Pat Nixon officially accepted two giant pandas as a gift from the People’s Republic of China and two musk oxen were given in return. This was to stand as a symbol of open diplomatic and trade relations between them. After fifty years, China has decided to withdraw its pandas from Western zoos, including the associations of San Antonio and Memphis, with no indication of renewing loan agreements. This circumstance generates concerns regarding the growing tensions between China and the U.S.

The relationship between the U.S. and China has been a wavering collection of ups and downs. Indications of the gradual deterioration leading up to the current state of the tarnished alliance became evident as early as 1979, but the events that have transpired as late as 2019 to the present are enough to explain the most recent growing tensions that have unfolded. In 2019, the first cluster of COVID cases were reported, and in early 2020 blame began to spiral out of control when former President Trump publicly declared the infection as the ‘China virus.’ Shortly after this statement, polarization between the two powerhouse nations began to ignite. Conflicts range from the expulsion of all American journalists from China to Trump signing an executive order to discontinue further trade with Beijing. 

This animosity is not only restricted to the government, but has extended to the public with more and more anti-American and anti-China sentiments stirring on social media platforms, such as TikTok for The States and Weibo in China. Rumors have been stirring on Weibo that the resident pandas of the Memphis Zoo, Le Le and Ya Ya, were abused when Le Le, the twenty-four-year-old male, died unexpectedly. Ya Ya, the female companion, was also photographed with patchy fur that left her looking gaunt and unmaintained. Even an official Chinese scientific delegation confirmed that Le Le died of natural causes and Ya Ya’s appearance was due to a chronic skin condition that causes fur to thin. When Ya Ya was returned in April, and all other pandas in U.S. international zoos seem to follow, it appears the animosity between China and the west is the only viable explanation.

It is clear that no agreement will be cultivated in the near future. Until diplomacy is restored, no further dealings should transpire between the U.S. and China. The pandas are essentially being confiscated and after years of contract renewals, this abrupt hold in loan agreements is a palpable indication that these nations could be on their way to war if they do not resolve their lingering abrasion. It is unfair that the U.S. will no longer have these precious bears available for them to view conveniently at local zoos due to the consequence of what amounts to a geopolitical game.