Panda diplomacy reins as zoo awaits new residents

China’s visiting premier has announced a panda swap at an Australian zoo but protesters say panda diplomacy shrouds the black and white of a troubling human rights record.

Making the announcement at Adelaide Zoo, China Premier Li Qiang said two new giant pandas would replace Wang Wang and Fu Ni, who have lived at the zoo for 15 years as the only specimens of their kind in the southern hemisphere.

The popular pair’s residence as part of an international breeding program helped drive up attendance at the zoo but they have not produced offspring during their time in Australia.

“(Wang Wang and Fu Ni) will return to China before the end of the year,” Premier Li told reporters in front of Adelaide Zoo’s panda enclosure.

“But what I want to tell you is that we will provide a new pair of beautiful, lovely and adorable pandas as soon as possible.”

Zoo director Dr Phil Ainsley was thrilled at the announcement.

“This is a collaborative partnership that we’ve been working with China on the giant panda for over 15 years,” he told AAP.

“So we’re very, very excited to see this to be able to continue.”

Dr Ainsley said the giant panda’s conservation status had improved from “endangered” to “vulnerable” over the duration of the international breeding program.

“That’s something which we’re very proud of,” he said.

Adelaide Zoo representatives will organise the selection of the new pandas in the coming weeks and months.

Premier Li’s visit is the first by a Chinese premier to Australia in seven turbulent years for the trading partners, amid trade restrictions, tender bans and recent military flare-ups in international waters.

The complexity of the relationship was mirrored by the attendance of pro-Communist Party supporters and pro-democracy and human rights protesters at the zoo.

Ted Hui, an Australian lawyer from Hong Kong, said panda diplomacy shouldn’t distract from China’s human rights record.

“While pandas are undeniably adorable and a symbol of wildlife conservation, we cannot let their presence distract us from the serious issues at hand,” Mr Hui said in a statement.

Ramila Chanisheff, President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, said the use of panda diplomacy was a smokescreen to divert attention from China’ human rights violations, particularly against the Uyghur people.

“We must not be blinded by their propaganda,” Ms Chanisheff said.

“Our protest is a stand for those who cannot speak for themselves and a reminder that human rights cannot be overshadowed by superficial gestures.”


Adrian Black
(Australian Associated Press)


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