When China requested the return of a giant panda from the National Zoo in Washington, it was thought this was because the pandas back home were not producing enough babies.
But the departure of Tai Shan last week now seems to signify an end to the era of “panda diplomacy” — which dates back to 1972 after President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China.
President Barack Obama’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama this week has infuriated the Chinese at a time when the US desperately wants their support for sanctions against Iran and its nuclear programme. The Chinese government called on Obama to cancel the meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader, which comes as relations between the world’s first and third-biggest economies have deteriorated sharply.
Ma Zhaoxu, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, said there had been “stern” exchanges with the US on the matter.