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New pandas heading to US, Chinese president hints

SAN FRANCISCO — Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated that China may send new pandas to the U.S. in a speech with business leaders during his diplomatic trip to California.

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He called the new pandas “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples,” according to the Associated Press.

“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation,” Xi said. “And do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between the Chinese and the American peoples.”

Xi went on to say that he has heard that California and the San Diego Zoo “very much look forward to welcoming pandas back,” according to CNN.

The announcement comes just eight days after three giant pandas from the National Zoo, Mei Tang, Tian Tian, and their cub Xaio Qi Ji, began their return trip to China. Their departure leaves only four pandas in the U.S., all at the Atlanta Zoo. The departure of the National Zoo pandas came at the end of an exchange agreement begun by President Richard Nixon, according to the AP. The agreement, which signified bilateralism between the two countries, was extended several times.

When China announced that it was taking back the most-visited animals at the National Zoo in early October, it sent a wave of sadness through zoo visitors, although zoo officials said at the time that they were working on a new agreement to replace them.

Xi’s gesture came after his face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden, where the two leaders discussed ways to reduce tensions between the two nations, the AP reported.

The pandas have served as a symbol of the friendship between China and the U.S. since the first pair of animals were given to the National Zoo in 1972. China later loaned pandas to other zoos in the U.S., with proceeds going back to help conservation efforts to protect pandas, according to the AP.

No timetable or other specific details were given at the dinner, but the AP reported that indicates that the new pandas are most likely to come to California, with San Diego being the most likely location.