Fears are mounting that Donald Trump’s trade war could have a pair of unintended victims: the two giant pandas that are on lease to Washington D.C.’s National Zoo and owned by China.

Mei Xiang, a female, and Tian Tian, a male, are on loan to the zoo until next year and, as tensions rise between Washington and Beijing, questions are being raised about whether China will grant a second extension to keep the beloved bears in the nation’s capitol.

The panda bear has long been a symbol of American-Chinese relations.

The pandas are owned by China, which leases them out to zoos around the world for up to $1 million per pair.

The National Zoo’s lease is up on December 7, 2020 and that agreement must be renegotiated if the pandas are to stay.

The Memphis and Atlanta Zoos are the only other places in America to see the beloved black-and-white bears, which are a major draw for zoos and can help raise revenue from entrance fees, gift shops and concessions.

China has already extended the original 10-year lease and talks have not started on another such extension.

But Trump’s tariff war could make panda politics tricky – although the political situation in the United States could be different after the November election.

Bei Bei, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian’s 4-year-old cub, returns to China in the next few months.

Under the terms of the lease, cubs go back to the Chinese breeding program at the age of 4.

Two previous cubs of the pair have already returned.

Zoo spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson said in a statement that officials there have not ‘started discussions for the next agreement’ and that their current focus is ‘preparing to send Bei Bei to China.’

‘I’d like clarify that we’ve had 47 incredibly successful years of partnering with our Chinese colleagues, China Wildlife and Conservation Association, and our current agreement is through Dec. 7, 2020. Our giant panda conservation program is all based on science plans that both our scientists and their Chinese counterparts create and implement together,’ Baker-Masson said.





In April, the San Diego Zoo returned its pandas – Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu – to China after their lease was not renewed.

In Memphis, Ya Ya and Le Le arrived in 2003 and had their lease extended until 2023.

Lun Lun and Yang Yang arrived in Atlanta in 1999 and have had seven cubs – including a set of twins.

The Atlanta zoo estimated it cost $2 million a year for the pair – $1 million for the lease and the rest for pandas feeding and care.

The zoo renewed its lease in 2009 after a massive fundraising effort helped bring in the money to keep them.

The panda bear has long been a symbol of American-Chinese relations.

In 2015, first lady Michelle Obama and the first lady of China, Peng Liyuan, attended the naming ceremony for Bei Bei at the National Zoo during a Chinese state visit.

In 1972, China gifted two pandas to the United States in gratitude for President Richard Nixon’s visit to their country.

Those bears – Ling-Ling, a female, and Hsing-Hsing, a male – ended up at the National Zoo, starting the relationship between that institution and the Chinese breeding program working to keep the species going.

Ling-Ling died in 1992, and Hsing-Hsing died in 1999. The pair had several cubs, but none survived.


National Zoo Photo of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang

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